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Grant paves way for 'long overdue' expansion of local mental health outreach program

Program will help Orillia OPP, CMHA deal with 'a surge of mental health issues ... due to COVID and the socioeconomic impacts,' says official
2021-02-22 Orillia COAST team
Members of the Orillia OPP and the Canadian Mental Health Association's Simcoe County branch are pictured in this file photo.

A mental health outreach program in Orillia is expanding thanks to a grant from the province.

The Orillia OPP and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Simcoe County branch applied for a Mobile Crisis Response Team Enhancement Grant in January and will receive $130,352.

The money will go toward the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST), which sees officers and mental health workers respond to and follow up on mental health calls.

The grant will allow for a second full-time CMHA worker to join COAST.

“We are absolutely thrilled to increase our partnership and COAST capacity with Orillia OPP,” said Kerry Dault, program manager, crisis services, with the CMHA in Simcoe County.

She said the expansion of COAST is “long overdue.”

“We’ve seen a surge of mental health issues in a lot of communities due to COVID and the socioeconomic impacts of all of that,” Dault said.

As part of the COAST program, CMHA workers attend mental health calls with police. They also follow up with individuals if the call comes in during hours when mental health workers aren’t on the job.

The goal is to get people the help they need without having to take them to the hospital or arrest them.

“To have both mental health workers and police respond reduces the impact on a person in crisis and reduces the impact on our community,” said Insp. Coyer Yateman, Orillia OPP detachment commander.

Before COAST was created, police had limited resources to deal with mental health calls, he said, which resulted in more people being taken to hospital involuntarily.

“There’s a significant ability to de-escalate situations and turn those involuntary escorts into not having to take them to hospital, or a voluntary escort,” he said.

COAST currently operates Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and every other weekend. The grant will allow for it to be expanded to seven days a week.

“I believe we’ll see a reduction in involuntary visits to the hospital,” Yateman said, referring to the program expansion as “significant.”

The funding is for a two-year period, but both Orillia OPP and the CMHA hope to see permanent funding for COAST eventually.

The CMHA collects data from all COAST services, and the number of interventions in Orillia is “very high,” Dault said.

“They definitely need more than one team.”