Four years ago, Elisha Hamilton lost her husband, Darrel, to suicide.
The 37-year-old Thompson Rivers University student said the couple, living in Salmon Arm at the time, was separating and she received a call at work from Darrel, who had suicidal thoughts.
Hamilton called the police. In hindsight, however, Hamilton said that call was not the right one. Police are trained to de-escalate, she said, but they are not mental-health professionals. She said her husband’s plans for suicide were not taken seriously.
Now a social work student in Kamloops, Hamilton is backing city council’s call for Interior Health to increase funding for the Car 40 program, a service she said could have saved her husband’s life.
Car 40 is a program that pairs a mental-health practitioner with an RCMP officer as they respond to calls involving mental-health situations.
“If there was a service like Car 40, a psychiatric nurse would have come and done the assessment and taken that person, whoever it is — let’s just say, my husband — and connected them with the resources or at least an assessment right then,” Hamilton said. “It could have changed things.”
Earlier this year, Hamilton launched an online petition to expand the Car 40 program and the petition has since garnered nearly 6,000 online signatures. Hamilton said after her husband’s death, she moved to Kamloops and took a year off before enrolling in Thompson Rivers University’s social work program.
In that program, Hamilton took a course focused on policy and an assignment asked her to find and fill a policy gap. She looked no further than the news, wherein Mayor Ken Christian had called for increased Car 40 services.
That was back in 2018. It is two years later and mayor and Kamloops council are echoing that same request.
During a recent community services committee meeting, Kamloops RCMP Supt. Syd Lecky and three council members — Christian and councillors Dale Bass, Mike O’Reilly — called for an expansion of the Car 40 program as files continue to pile up on the desks of police officers.
In the first six months of 2020, Kamloops RCMP reported 900 files related to the Mental Health Act, but only 230 Car 40 interventions, in which a mental-health nurse and RCMP officer attend.
Lecky said the city supports the program with two police officers, but noted only one nurse is funded by Interior Health. Lecky said the service operates during the week and during daytime hours — not at night, which is part of the issue in not being able to address significant files related to the Mental Health Act.
Interior Health said it needs to look at the whole picture, including specific needs of the community and “how to make the best use of available resources.”
However, Hamilton told KTW if programs like Car 40 are not properly resourced, the health authority will bear the brunt of costs in other ways, such as emergency departments operating costs, where mental health emergencies often end up. In addition, she noted demand for family doctors and added strain on that system without mental-health supports.
“If somebody keeps going to the emergency room because that’s where they’re brought in a mental-health emergency, and then they’re discharged, and then it happens again, and then they’re discharged because it’s not dealt with accordingly, then it’s costing more,” Hamilton said.
Interior Health said meetings planned in the coming weeks will provide an opportunity to review what is in place and what may be needed to support the largest number of people in need of mental-health support.
Meanwhile, Hamilton is reaching out to the city to offer her support in bid to prevent another family from experiencing what hers has had to endure.
“My children are going to grow up without a father,” Hamilton said. “I’m going to have to explain what happened to them one day, when they’re older. All I want is for me to say, ‘I didn’t do the right things then, but I am making sure that I know the right things to do now, so I can help another person.’”
To sign the online petition in support of expanding the Car 40 program, go online to https://www.change.org/p/interior-health-expand-the-car-40-program-to-attend-mental-health-emergencies.
Calls for Car 40 expansion include these comments on the petition online:
• “This should be a standard service available 24 hours. Mental health matters.”
• “This program should be a Canada-wide initiative. Far too many people are dying by suicide and many young people are among those numbers.”
• “Rural areas also need this program.”
• “I am signing this petition because I work in a field that uses Car 40, but it needs to be available 24 hours a day and 365 days a year to be effective.”
• “Situations involving mental health happen 24-seven. Not just Monday to Friday, nine-to-five.”