Police and CMHA Formally Ask for Help to Expand IMPACT Program

The Integrated Mobile Police and Crisis Team (IMPACT) program has been widely considered a success in Guelph when it comes to responding to residents suffering a metal health crisis. Despite its success though, IMPACT is still limited by how many hours in the day it can operate, which is why local stakeholders are reaching out to the Government of Ontario for financial assistance to make IMPACT available 24/7.

The letter co-signed by Mayor Cam Guthrie, Guelph Police Chief Gord Cobey, and CEO of Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo-Wellington (CMHAWW) Helen Fishburn asks the Provincial government for help to pilot a version of IMPACT that will be available all day, every day. “IMPACT has been transformative for Guelph residents experiencing mental health emergencies,” the letter said.

The IMPACT team is made up of seven specially trained mental health clinicians – six full-time, one part-time – who operate out of Police headquarters and attend emergency calls for mental health alongside police.

“Sometimes they arrive with us and sometimes they arrive after the fact when it’s deemed to be a safe location for them to engage with the client,” explained Jeff Stanlick, Director of IMPACT, at a police board meeting in February. “Once that safety is created, they’re able to engage with the client, provide that mental health, addictions and crisis assessment, and after that assessment the next steps get decided: Is it necessary to take the individual to hospital, or is it more effective to refer them and connect with community supports?”

The program was started in 2015, but it was expanded in 2021 to make services available seven days a week from 8 am until midnight because IMPACT’s success speaks for itself with 503 of 723 live calls diverted from the hospital thanks to the intervention of the team between April 202o and March 2021. In May alone, police received 128 live calls and diverted 85 of those calls from the hospital, which speaks to the intent of the letter. The fact is that the need for IMPACT is growing.

“Currently, the limited capacity and operating hours of the IMPACT program create challenges for vulnerable community members, and significant expenses for both the Guelph General Hospital and the Guelph Police Service,” the letter said. ” Not only would piloting 24/7 IMPACT lead to a reduction of police hours spent in hospital, it would also generate significant savings for our health system. We estimate that offering IMPACT 24/7 would generate up to $3.6M in savings a year for Guelph General Hospital while only costing approximately $1.6M in additional annual expenses.”

At February’s board meeting, Stanlick explained that the program would need at least $700,000 in annual funding to be made operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they would likely need $1.2 million to do it right. “The current compliment is seven staff, and we need, at minimum, double that, so 14, even 15 staff to make that at minimum,” he said. “Ideally we would need 21 to optimally staff the service 24 hours a day, seven days a week to account for all of the staffing needs with vacancies, vacations, and things like that.”

Although he doesn’t sit on the government benches, Guelph’s MPP Mike Schreiner added his voice of support to the request to expand IMPACT.

“Almost a third of all mental health related calls happen between midnight and 8am. But the service is unavailable during these times. Crisis response from trained mental health professionals should be available at all hours, especially at night,” Schreiner said in a separate statement. “Expanding the IMPACT program would help keep Ontarians safe and result in millions of dollars in savings for Guelph General Hospital. It’s the right thing to do and Guelph is the perfect place to demonstrate how 24/7 Impact coverage can benefit communities across Ontario.”

“The mental health crisis in Ontario has been further intensified by the pandemic, and we need to do everything possible to support people and help get them the treatment they need,” Schreiner added.

The letter was addressed to Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael  Tibollo, and was also sent to Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Health Christine Elliott, and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. You can read the full letter here.

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