Anxiety-ridden with confusion over managing the simplest of tasks, she repeatedly called 911.
The elderly woman with severe mental health challenges had family, but they felt completely hopeless in trying to help.
The senior’s calls to police averaged three to four a day over several months.
Since 2000, such calls have been the responsibility of Car 67, a specialized unit with a police officer and a nurse on board to deal with mental health issues.
In a decade, Car 67 handled 12,000 files throughout Surrey. Some of those were for the elderly lady, who was brought to hospital more than 30 times.
To come up with a better solution, RCMP called in mental health liaison Const. Taylor Quee, whose newly assigned specialty was to stop this repeating cycle for callers like the woman, police and health care professionals.
Quee worked with outside agencies, such as Fraser Health and some mental health advocacy groups. Those agencies needed evidence to ascertain the woman’s underlying health conditions. Quee put an information package together, and the elderly woman is now in residential care and doing well.
The outcome provided a more humane way of treating the woman and great savings in resources for the RCMP.
The mental health liaison is a new position which was pitched by Quee herself. She put together the business case for the RCMP and was slotted into a full-time role in July 2011.
It’s been a busy 21 months for Quee.
During that time, in addition to helping the elderly lady, she has found alternate care for eight people who were responsible for 1,500 calls to the police over four years.
The cost to taxpayers over that time is estimated to be $600,000. Since those people have been treated for their mental health disorders, those policing costs have vanished.
When describing her job, Quee sounds more like a social services outreach worker than someone from old-school law enforcement.
Most notably, she refers to those she works with as clients. Her job, she says, is to reach out, connect, obtain trust, and link those in need with the resources that will help them get better.
From a human wellness standpoint, the work is invaluable, and from a policing perspective, the relief of resources is crucial. And from a taxpayer viewpoint, it offers tremendous savings.
Between 30 and 40 per cent of police calls involve a complaint about someone with a mental health issue.
And most of those people have no criminal background whatsoever.
“Ninety per cent of the people we deal with have no prior police contact,” Quee says, adding they don’t belong in holding cells or jail.
Instead, they are now referred to medical professionals.
“Clients are safer, because they’re in treatment,” Quee says.
The high volume of calls makes Quee’s job a critical part of the city’s policing model, says Surrey RCMP Insp. Garry Begg (left).
“There was a time when we (police) were the call of last resort,” Begg says. “Now we’re the first.”
The fact that Mounties are on the clock 24/7 means a call to 911 usually results in a dispatch of police officers. Because mental health calls can take a significant amount of time, it’s a large drain on resources.
Recently, there were 12 police officers waiting with people at Surrey Memorial Hospital. Not all of those were mental health calls, but they certainly added to the hold-up in the emergency room.
Still, freedom of choice remains a main hurdle between Quee’s clients and wellness.
People with mental illness are free to choose whether or not to seek help, or if they want to take the necessary medications once they have been assessed.
It means many people fall through the cracks by their own choice, often because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
Frequently, the next time the client appears on the radar is through a police call, usually as a public disturbance of some kind.
Then Quee goes back to work, once again encouraging people to accept professional help.