Meet the Vulnerable Sector Mobile Acute Response Team
Constable Justin Wheeler, a Vulnerable Sector Officer with the Cornwall Police Service (CPS) and Shannon Griese, a Social Worker from the Cornwall Community Hospital (CCH), team up together to make the Vulnerable Sector Mobile Acute Response Team (VSMART).
In 2018, CPS, CCH and Inspire – Community Support Services (formerly Counselling and Support Services of S.D. & G.) had worked collaboratively to develop a strategy to improve service to the vulnerable sector of the community. The objective of the partnership was to ensure that prompt and effective service is provided for anyone in a state of crisis due to a mental illness, developmental disability, illness, emotional disturbance or due to age.
From there, VSMART was developed as a means to provide better service and help to those who need it most, while referring these individuals to the appropriate resources and supports. With early identification and intervention by the team, those who are most at-risk in the community can receive an expedited response, in order to prevent further escalation and avoid a future state of crisis.
The creation of the VSMART derives from a significant increase in mental health crisis calls. From 2016 to 2017 alone, the CPS experienced a 63% increase in mental health crisis calls, with 81% of those calls resulting in an individual being apprehended, where an officer must attend the CCH and await the completion of a proper medical assessment with the person in crisis.
With the use of VSMART, officers now have access to consult the team in order to assess all possible options and resources available, to avoid having to apprehend the individual. VSMART ensures that only those who truly need to be at the hospital due to a state of crisis are apprehended and taken there; otherwise, the team works with the individual to conduct an assessment and make referrals to the appropriate agencies that can help.
Since launching in 2018, the team has already made some adjustments to ensure the services being offered are truly meaningful to the vulnerable sector. VSMART is incredibly conscious of the need to decriminalize mental health. In recognizing this, the team has altered their vehicle, eliminating all “police” decals, making it fully unmarked, yet still fully capable of urgently responding to crisis calls and performing follow-ups. The team has also implemented a low-profile uniform, designed to limit anxiety and differentiate the team from a regular frontline police officer. These efforts are to help eliminate the stigma associated mental health, permitting the team to speak to clients while providing them with a level of respect and dignity when they are most vulnerable.
VSMART began operating in a full-time capacity in early 2021, having a social worker available to accompany the Vulnerable Sector Officer 40 hours per week. This allows the team to be available to assist officers who may have to respond to an individual in crisis, creating more accountability to ensure proper care is offered. The officer can consult with VSMART, ask them questions, or in some circumstances have VSMART intervene to assess all possible options and resources available to the individual and avoid them being apprehended. The availability of the team also assists with allowing officers to respond to other priority calls for service, while not requiring them to remain at the hospital with a person in crisis.
The success of the program comes from the team’s ability to work with the most at-risk vulnerable individuals in the community. 100% of the individuals who are apprehended by VSMART under the Mental Health Act, remain in the hospital while in need of serious care and attention. They are only apprehending individuals who truly need to be in the hospital. Otherwise, the team is effective in building rapport and referring those experiencing mental health issues to the necessary resources for help.
“Building rapport with the people we work with is a key piece of our ability to help them get the care they need,” said Social Worker Griese. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but the more often we can create a safe space and comfortable way to reach these individuals who are suffering, the greater success we have.”
Some of the success stories shared by the team include their involvement with a person in crisis, who between 2020 and November of 2021, generated 105 calls for service to the CPS. Due to effective interventions and referrals by VSMART, there have been no further calls for service to CPS dispatch since November of 2021.
Though it takes time, the long-term results can be extremely beneficial to the individual, as well as to healthcare workers, police and the community.
The team has also been able to make use of provincial funding to help individuals suffering from mental health issues, while also combatting other social factors, such as homelessness or struggling to make ends meet. It is not uncommon for the team to hand out grocery store and restaurant gift cards to help these vulnerable clients, while building greater trust and rapport.
VSMART notes the amazing relationship they have with the Mental Health Crisis Team (MHCT) and praise it for being a phenomenal resource for the community. The MHCT has greatly assisted with lowering apprehension rates and making those working with VSMART a top priority.
Additionally, Social Worker Griese maintains a strong working relationship with the Emergency Room Coordinator of the CCH. This helps to expedite the process to get individuals experiencing a crisis with the physicians and psychiatrists at the hospital. Further, VSMART remains with the individual until they are formed by the physician, while ensuring there is no sensory stimulation and that clients are always as comfortable as possible.
“We want to help those people in our community who are prone to fall through the cracks,” said Cst. Wheeler. “The goal is not to being people to hospital. We want to help bridge the gaps until they are picked up and connected to appropriate resources to get the help they deserve.”
The CPS relies on provincial funding through the Solicitor General and the Government of Ontario to sustain this critical service to the community. The Service is pleased to see the impact of VSMART and its continued to effort towards mobilizing and enhancing service to the vulnerable sector.
- In 2022, the team responded to 523 calls for service.
- 27% of these calls involved repeat clients.
- VSMART made approximately 250 referrals in 2022, to the appropriate agencies, in order to give these clients the proper care and attention needed.
- VSMART made 45 apprehensions in 2022, where 100% of those individuals were admitted into the hospital.
- The overall apprehension rate by police officers has reduced from 48% in 2019 to 30% in 2022.
Did you know?
The Cornwall Police Service also has a Vulnerable Person Registry?
The Vulnerable Person Registry is a free service offered by the Cornwall Police Service that is used to provide police and other emergency services with vital information that can be used to locate or communicate with a vulnerable person during an emergency situation. Caregivers and family members can submit information about a vulnerable person through our online registry, providing police with emergency contact information, detailed physical descriptions, known routines, favorite attractions or special needs of the vulnerable individual. This information can assist officers in communicating with, attending a residence of, or dealing with an emergency involving a vulnerable individual.
Learn more here.
If you are in crisis, please contact the Mental Health Crisis Line: 1-866-996-0991