Enhanced services are available for people in Nanaimo experiencing mental health and/or substance use crises, thanks to Car 54 – a full-time mental health mobile program that launched in October 2022.
Car 54 is a joint initiative between Island Health and the Nanaimo RCMP. It teams up Lianne Rear, a registered nurse from Island Health’s Mental Health and Substance Use (MHSU) program, with Const. Josh Waltman, a mental health liaison RCMP officer. Together, they attend urgent calls in an unmarked police car to support people in crisis. This effort marks the latest “crisis car” collaboration between Island Health and the RCMP on Vancouver Island; partnerships between police and health-care providers are also in place in Duncan/North Cowichan and on the South Island.
"When people are in crisis because of mental health or substance use challenges, we want them met with care and compassion," says Jennifer Whiteside, minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Car 54 is an additional resource that will support people in distress and connect them to the help and health care that they need.”
Nanaimo Detachment Supt. Lisa Fletcher believes the Car 54 program will greatly enhance the Nanaimo RCMP’s overall response to mental health calls. “We have heard from the families of those in crisis, the police officers responding and our community partners that more is expected from the police,” she says.
“This initiative shows our commitment to improving our response and working with our partners to address mental health challenges in our community.”
The goal of the Car 54 program is to resolve mental health crisis situations collaboratively and in the least intrusive way – which could include verbal de-escalation, the involvement of friends and family to help support the client, and determining if hospital care or other options are needed, such as referrals to community resources and supports.
“We don’t overdo it if we don’t have to. We try to preserve some privacy and dignity,” says Rear. “It’s about trying to find the most client-centred approach – that’s my lens.”
“Lianne can do an in-depth, thorough mental health assessment, while I look after the safety concerns and the risk concerns and make sure everyone is safe,” adds Const. Waltman. Since Car 54 launched permanently on October 4, he estimates that the duo has reviewed and acted on hundreds of client files.
“Since launching, the Car 54 partnership has been a huge success,” says Sheila Leadbetter, Island Health’s executive director of MHSU. “It assists some of our most vulnerable clients in distress, helps de-escalate crisis situations, and connects people to resources and services with community organizations or within Island Health.”
Adds Mayor Leonard Krog: “The Car 54 project is a part of the full suite of services Nanaimo requires to help meet the needs of people experiencing mental health or substance use issues.”