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When Nelson police receive a mental-health call, they turn to Fiona Stevenson

A new program partners Interior Health front-line workers with local law enforcement
Fiona Stevenson is a mental-health clinician who is working alongside Nelson police in a new partnership between Interior Health and law enforcement. Photo: Tyler Harper

On your worst day, Fiona Stevenson hopes she’ll be called to your side.

Stevenson is a member of Interior Health’s Integrated Crisis Response Team, which was introduced this year and pairs front-line workers with local police when responding to mental health calls. Four clinicians were placed in Nelson, Trail, Cranbrook and Williams Lake.

Whereas previously an officer might answer a call for help on their own, now they have a trained health-care worker next to them.

In Nelson that person is Stevenson, who began working with the municipal police as well as the local RCMP detachment in January. It’s role she’s excited to be in.

“I love the way that I have an opportunity and the privilege to walk alongside someone when they are at their most vulnerable moments and be able to help create meaningful change,” she said.

“That is incredible to be able to hold that space with another person. I think a program like this is really uniquely positioned to do that.”

Increased co-ordination between police and health-care workers is among the recommended revisions being considered for the Police Act, but it isn’t a new idea. The Car 87 program in Vancouver has sent police and registered nurses to mental-health calls since 1978, and other municipalities such as Victoria and Kelowna have adopted the practice.

But it is novel for rural B.C. communities, and there’s a need for it in Nelson. Last year municipal officers responded to 732 calls that included a mental-health component.

Nelson Police Department Insp. Kris Rice said officers are trained to understand B.C.’s Mental Health Act, how to identify different types of psychosis and in de-escalation.

Officers are still needed to attend calls for safety purposes, but Rice said the benefit of having Stevenson is her ability to quickly assess people in crisis on-site.

“That triage process is actually improved. She’ll attend hospital as well and continue that care and transition things right over to the medical staff there. So I think that’s awesome enhancements that we’re seeing benefits from.”

READ MORE: Nelson police now paired with trained first responder for mental health calls

Stevenson has all the training anyone working in mental health might bring to the role. Prior to moving to Nelson in November she worked in Kelowna first in an IH program dedicated to supporting people experiencing or at-risk of psychosis, then on another team for high-needs clients who had psychotic symptoms as well as substance-use disorders.

But she’s also trained as occupational therapist, which assists people who are hampered by injury, illness or disability. Being able to help a clients with mental-health needs adapt and move forward with their lives provides Stevenson with a unique perspective on her job.

“The kind of marriage that occupational therapists and mental health have together is something that excites me.”

When a call for assistance comes in, Stevenson either drives to the scene or runs across the street from her office to the department for a pickup.

After she meets with the client, Stevenson decides if a mental status exam, de-escalation or safety planning is necessary. She might also accompany them to Kootenay Lake Hospital, if that’s what’s needed. Afterward, she provides follow-up calls and connects them to ongoing services, but tries to make sure people don’t feel dropped by her or shuffled off to someone else.

Whatever happens, Stevenson says she gives people in need all the help she can.

“What is a priority to me is to be able to provide a really fulsome wraparound service. And so I want to make sure that the clients, and their families obviously because we want to make sure that there’s a family centred approach to this care too, feel like they have some support.”

Her call load changes daily. Some times she might have no calls, others as many as three or four. Earlier this week she had two calls in one day, and spent five hours with one of the clients. Many of the faces she sees are also new — there aren’t as many repeat calls for help.

That might suggest the clients Stevenson sees don’t need her more than once. It’s still too early to know that for sure, but her hope is the program leads to a decrease in hospital admissions and better health outcomes for Nelson’s residents.

“I think it’s really cool to be part of a program that is wanted and needed and appreciated. And I really hope that I can be part of meaningful change and I can be a part of a good health-care experience for someone. Even if there’s only one person, that makes it worth it.”


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Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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