July 17th, 2024

Local CARe program wins award for mental health supports

By KENDALL KING on April 6, 2023.

Lyndon Grunewald, executive director of Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta Southeast Region, accepted a provincial Community Justice Award on behalf of the CARE Team and the Medicine Hat Police Service, which is a partner in the CARE Team project.--SUBMITTED PHOTO


A local mental health-focused, alternative emergency response program is receiving provincial acclaim for its innovative approach toward improving community safety.

The Community Assisted Response (CARe) program, a one-year pilot operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association of Alberta Southeast Region in partnership with the Medicine Hat Police Service, is one of 11 organizations and individuals recognized through the 2023 Alberta Community Justice Awards.

Launched in September 2022, the program facilitates members of the CARe Team to respond to low-risk, mental health-related emergency service calls rather than police, including calls for mental-health crisis response, addiction or intoxication assistance and welfare checks.

The program, one of the first of its kind in Alberta, aims to provide a more focused response to non-emergent mental-health calls, thus allowing police to centre efforts and resources on criminal matters and trained mental-health professionals with the ability to support individuals in crisis.

Lyndon Grunewald, CHMA ASER executive director, says he and his team are grateful for the award, and appreciate the recognition that alternative emergency response strategies can play a valuable role in promoting safety through individual engagement.

“It’s an honour (to be recognized) for what the team does in the community,” Grunewald told the News. “We are working on the ground with people in our community who are experiencing mental wellness challenges … and making sure that (they) are supported.

“And the police are seeing a real impact on their service calls because there’s so many calls now being redirected (to the CARe Team), so that’s a real benefit.”

While Grunewald, who facilitated the details and oversaw the implementation of the program, is actually listed as the sole award recipient, he says it’s an honour belonging to the team as a whole.

“We have four full-time CARe Team members,” said Grunewald. “They do an 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. shift every day … Then, currently, we have five casuals, and we’re adding a couple more soon.

“They’re caring mental-health professionals (and), in my mind, they’re first responders because they walk into situations not knowing exactly what’s going on, based on just the description that 911 dispatch has provided them.”

Grunewald says MHPS also shares in the achievement, as the CARe program partnership would not be possible without the service’s support.

Grunewald hopes the award will help increase awareness of the CARe program, which CMHA and MHPS are looking to extend for a second year, or if possible, establish permanently, so to assist police in responding to the approximate 800 low-risk mental-health calls placed each year.

As of March, the CARe Team is responding to anywhere between 100-150 calls per month.

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