For mental health clinicians and police, time is an important asset.
In 2014, a partnership was formed between the two which aimed to reduce the time it took for people in mental health crises to see a professional and shorten the amount of unnecessary time police spent with patients.
As Bendigo Police Sergeant Michael Pain explains, without the Police Ambulance Clinical Early Response (PACER) program police could be waiting with patients in emergency departments for two to three hours.
“As a supervisor with limited resources, I need to ensure cars are on the road because the public are losing out without their assistance. The PACER program helps with that,” he said.
Mental health patients are requiring more police time than ever before.
According to police, an officer responds to a person experiencing a mental health crisis every 12 minutes.
Statistics also show mental health events across the State have risen by 90 per cent over four years, equating to at least 50 per cent of an officer’s shift.
The PACER team constitutes a police officer and a mental health clinician who are based at the police station.
Senior Psychiatric Nurse Jan McNeill has been involved in the Bendigo PACER program from the start and is convinced it has saved lives.
“Police have the power to enter a property and stop someone from hurting themselves. There’s been numerous instances where a person has been psychotic, suicidal and they’ve deteriorated to a degree that without police intervention they would have been at risk,” she said.
The PACER team are secondary responders and can enter a property once it’s deemed safe by police first responders. Jan also does phone assessments of patients after they’ve spoken with police and talks to a lot of walk in patients at the police station.
The program has not just freed up police resources, it streamlines the admission process for a patient.
“A lot of people don’t want to go to ED, they just want someone to talk to. Those that do can be streamlined to a relevant unit and are grateful they don’t have to go through the hospital system,” Jan said.
“The program has improved the efficiency of getting patients to speak with professionals, which is critical,” Michael said.
Jan believes police understanding of, and competence in dealing with mental health crises has improved dramatically since PACER began.
“Their ability to triage and explain how a person is acting and behaving is fantastic, they talk about mood, suicidality. Sometimes you feel as though you’re speaking with a clinician, not a police officer,” she said.
Having a clinician as a resource has helped police resolve situations a lot quicker.
“We usually have a good relationship with patients. But when we can offer for them to speak with a clinician it improves the situation,” Michael said.
Both Michael and Jan agree the PACER program in Bendigo has developed into a relationship of need for both the police and clinicians, but more importantly patients.
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