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Windsor police and hospitals expand support for people with mental health and substance use challenges

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Windsor police are partnering with healthcare providers to expand support for those experiencing substance use and mental health challenges as part of a downtown initiative.

Police Chief Jason Bellaire, announced on Wednesday important updates and expansions to the partnerships with Windsor Regional Hospital and Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare.

He said these expanded partnerships will enable them to better help people experiencing mental health and substance use challenges.

“Police are responding to an ever-increasing number of calls for service that involve individuals struggling with challenges related to mental health and substance use. Through our partnerships with Windsor Regional Hospital and Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, we are taking proactive steps to serve our community’s most vulnerable populations while freeing up police resources to focus on crime prevention and public safety,” said Bellaire.

The developments are the latest step in the Strengthen the Core: Downtown Windsor Revitalization Plan, a comprehensive strategy that aims to marshal municipal resources to support a safer and more vibrant downtown.

Nurse Police Team

Windsor Police and Windsor Regional Hospital are excited to share that the Nurse Police Team (NPT) program has been extended from three days to seven days per week.

Initially launched as a pilot project in May 2023, the NPT program is a data-driven strategy that pairs frontline police officers with nursing professionals to deliver proactive healthcare to people struggling with substance use. The initiative steers individuals away from the criminal justice system and reduces the strain on our already overcrowded hospital emergency departments.

The NPT program previously operated only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays when the demand for service was highest. However, following a successful trial period, the NPT program will now run daily, from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.Windsor police and Windsor Regional Hospital officials in front of the Emergency Department in Windsor, Ont. (Source: Windsor police)

“Unique partnerships like NPT are making a real difference by addressing healthcare issues for individuals who have difficulties receiving any level of medical care short of the emergency department. Due to barriers in accessing health care, often their health issues go untreated and develop into a crisis or emergency – whether this is a medical issue or a mental health and addictions issue. By attending to these individuals during higher demand hours, in their setting and also addressing issues proactively has avoided emergency room visits which benefits the system as a whole,” said Jonathan Foster, vice president of Emergency and Mental Health at WRH.

Police say the initiative’s impact in the community has been significant. Over its first year, the NPT handled 1,645 calls for service, distributed 240 dosages of the life-saving medication Naloxone, referred 905 people to community resources, and diverted 563 potential visits from hospital emergency rooms.

Closely linked to another partnership between Windsor Police and Windsor Regional Hospital, the NPT program has contributed to the unprecedented improvements in officer wait times at hospital with people in crisis.

Crisis Response Team

Since 2009, Windsor Police and Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare have provided care to people in crisis through several police teams. The success of these teams, alongside continued mental health challenges in our community, has created a need for expansion.

Officials announced the new Crisis Response Team (CRT), which will continue pairing frontline police officers with social workers who have expertise in mental health and de-escalation techniques. The CRT replaces the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team (MCRRT) and the Community Outreach and Support Team (COAST) in the City of Windsor. A separate COAST team will continue to serve the Amherstburg community.

The CRT program pairs crisis intervention (CIT) trained frontline police officers with dedicated CIT-trained social workers. These teams assist individuals presenting with symptoms of mental illness, substance use, and behavioural disorders, as well as people in acute crisis situations within Windsor. Annually, these teams divert over 90% of the clients they see away from the emergency department and serve as valuable experts in de-escalation during crisis situations.

The CRT has increased operations from five days to seven days per week, from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., providing overlap coverage during peak hours and reducing the number of calls to which patrol units must respond. The initiative will modernize, streamline, and enhance critical service delivery to the community while supporting all frontline first responders.

In 2023, Windsor Police responded to more than 3,078 calls for service involving people in crisis –an 11.3% increase over the previous year.

“For almost 15 years, the Windsor-Essex community has been served by policing teams, as a result of a partnership between Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and local policing. These teams have had success in deescalating and supporting individuals experiencing mental health crises in our community. The evolution of the Windsor based COAST team and MCRRT police teams will continue on the foundation of this work with a goal to reduce the number of individuals presenting in local emergency departments,” said Bill Marra, president and CEO of HDGH.

Strengthen the Core: Downtown Windsor Revitalization Plan

After receiving unanimous approval from Windsor City Council, the ‘Strengthen the Core: Downtown Windsor Revitalization Plan’ is moving forward to address safety and security, increase the number of businesses, attract new residents and visitors, and make significant improvements to the City’s core.

“The City’s ‘Strengthen the Core: Downtown Windsor Revitalization Plan’ continues to gain momentum with this important announcement from the Windsor Police Service and our healthcare partners. The plan’s first critical action item, ‘Safe Streets,’ called for and supported this expansion and additional resources for the Nurse Police Team and the Crisis Response Team,” said Mayor Drew Dilkens.Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens in Windsor, Ont., on Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Rich Garton/CTV News Windsor)

The $3.2-million plan includes seven initial action items – Safe Streets, High Standards, Healthy Spaces, Place-Making, Vibrant District, ‘Our Downtown’, and Stronger Together – to support the development and evolution of our community. The strategy involves many cross-sectoral partnerships with community stakeholders, including a strong partnership with the Windsor Police Service and Windsor’s healthcare partners, to realize the overall goals of the plan. To learn more, visit the Strengthen the Core web page.

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