At the request of Mayor Fred Haynes, Saanich is calling on the province to re-establish non-police security at hospitals to take custody of those apprehended under the Mental Health Act to reduce patients’ trauma, remove some of the stigma and reallocate resources.
On April 12, council unanimously agreed to have Haynes write to the province and Island Health to request that special constables be reinstated at hospitals and trained to take custody of mental health patients apprehended by police. He’ll also request that Island Health devise a new, non-police system for bringing these patients home after a mandated treatment.
Until 1997, adults detained under the Mental Health Act – those in mental distress acting in a way that could endanger themselves or others – were taken to a hospital and turned over to protection services officers, who at the time were appointed as special provincial constables under the Police Act, Haynes explained. Then the police would return to their duties.
After a suicide attempt by a mental health patient and lawsuit in 1997, the provincial government revoked hospital security guards’ constable status and they could no longer take custody of patients.
Now, officers who bring someone to the hospital must remain on site until the examining physician releases them.
In 2020, Saanich police spent nearly 1,200 hours waiting at the hospital with patients apprehended under the Mental Health Act – costing taxpayers more than $75,600, Haynes said. This year, officers have already transported 148 individuals to hospital under the Mental Health Act, with an average of one hour and 42 minutes spent waiting to be released by a physician each time.
This, he said, is a disservice to the officers, the taxpayers footing the bill for misuse of resources and, most importantly, the patients who would be better served by a mental health professional.
Officers’ assistance is required when there is a safety risk, but “involvement of police should be reduced to an absolute minimum,” Haynes said. He knows first-hand the challenges faced by mental health patients as his mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was often hospitalized.
Dealing with mental health is “a very difficult road” for the patient and their family, he said. “I’m acutely aware of the need for individuals to be helped by mental health professionals” and for a system that supports them from admission to their return home.
Growing up in England, it was paramedics who would assist his mother and, while his family still faced stigma, it was apparent that it was a health issue, not a criminal one.