Province brings Community Response Team to P.A.

Melfort MLA Todd Goudy speaks at the CRT launch in Prince Albert on March 15. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Prince Albert is the latest city to get a Community Response Team (CRT), a new service from the provincial government that tries to connect mental health patients with supports in a more comfortable environment.

Prince Albert’s CRT started operating shortly after Christmas but was only formally announced Friday. It consists of a team lead, a social worker, an addictions counsellor, an occupational therapist and three community mental health nurses. According to a press release, the teams “use a holistic, team-based approach to help clients manage symptoms, achieve their goals, avoid hospitalization and thrive in the community.”

The CRT is set up to provide intensive supports for those living with complex, persistent mental health challenges. The provincial government has provided $4.2 million in funding to launch teams in eight Saskatchewan communities. Teams have already been announced in Prince Albert, Regina, Swift Current, Yorkton, Weyburn, Moose Jaw and Saskatoon. Details of the North Battleford program will be announced in the near future.

Funding comes from the Canada-Saskatchewan bilateral funding agreement announced in January. The federal government is providing almost $350 million over ten years for targeted investments in home and community care and mental health and addiction services.

The individual make-up of each team varies, but they have the same basic goal.

“These teams are an important step in helping people receive the care they need int he community, rather than having them rely on acute care systems such as hospital emergency rooms,” said Saskatchewan Health Authority chief human resource officer Mike Northcott.

“This not only improves care for the patient, it improves access to services like the ER by reducing wait times for those experiencing urgent and emergent health care situations.”

Northcott said that as the health system continues to transform from 13 health regions to one, province-wide body, specialized mobile teams will play a bigger role.

‘The focus on team-based ca in patient management, daily care planning and a flexible approach sets up the team and their patents for the best chance of success,” Northcott continued.

‘As a health authority, we really want to meet people where they are at and provide services in communities, keeping people closer to home. We believe that is a more effective way to meet patients’ needs, and that’s what we’ve heard from patients. We want to meet them where they are at in their communities and provide that support (locally).”

While the program may result in some cost savings, Northcott said the decision was based on quality and safety and providing what patients need, not based on saving money.

The Prince Albert team will be led by Carolyn Vandyck, who has worked in mental health and addictions since 2002, most recently serving as a mental health intake worker.

“We’re going into the community, we’re doing home visits. We work with our partners within the health region addictions services, the mental health inpatient unit (and detox),” she said.

“It could be someone with social anxiety who has so much anxiety they can’t leave their home anymore, so we meet with them. We might even go shopping with them _ just meeting them where they are at.”

Vandyck said finding the balance between helping and enabling can be difficult.

Cathryn Vandyck speaks at the CRT launch event in Prince Albet on March 15, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

“You don’t want to take people’s power away and you don’t want to become an enabler,” she said.

“That’s why I’m the assessor/coordinator to find out what are their needs, how we can help them, how we can support people without taking away their power and doing the work for them.”

In the shopping example, she said, maybe after that first trip they push the client to go out on their own, to help them grow that way.

The program is still relatively new, but already, Vandyck has seen the difference in connecting with people where they are comfortable instead of making them come to an institution for care.

“It’s interesting to see how people respond if you are in their home or if you pick them up for a ride. It’s so much easier to have a conversation if they’re just int eh vehicle beside you,” she said.

“It’s a different dynamic. In an office setting, it can be quite intimidating. To meet them where they’re at, you can see where they live, and that will also tell us what is going well and what is not going so well for them.”

Vandyck also said she has noticed that communication has improved between the emergency room, mental health and addictions since the team was launched earlier this year.

One of the unique elements of the Prince Albert team is the use of the three mental health nurses _ two full-time and one part-time — right in the hospital emergency rooms.

“We have already seen benefits, because (for) people with mental health issues, sometimes it’s hard to disclose with nurses and doctors, but when they know there is a psychiatric nurse more specialized in attending to mental health needs, clients and patients are more likely to open up. We’ve seen that already,” Vandyck said.

“That’s the unique part of the Prince Albert team. Working collaboratively with our acute care partners, the community mental health nurses engage, assess and develop care plans with mental health and addictions clients, as well as enhance transitional care between acute and community-based programs.”

Melfort MLA Todd Goudy was on hand to celebrate the launch of the CRT.

“My background has been working with people with mental health issues. Recovery — helping people get back to the place where they’re living a life that is fulfilling … I’m proud to be part of a province that doesn’t leave the most vulnerable to themselves,” he said.

Goudy, who was born in P.A., said he was pleased his hometown has a group of people whose only job is to focus on the mental health of individuals in the community.

“To have a multidisciplinary group go to where the person is in need, where the family is in need, they not only invite them to come for help. They go to them in those times of need.”