Peace of Mind

HealthIM Gives Police Better Tools to Respond to Mental Health Crises

While societal awareness of mental health and mental illness is slowly improving, persons with mental illness continue to face challenges in finding connections to treatment or community resources. This challenge is particularly evident to police services across North America, who are seeing increased frequency in mental health-related calls. As a result, officers are often found on the frontline of care as the first responders to mental health crises.

Police services are investing in better mental health training for officers in the field, but there is still more to be done to ensure that officers are fully equipped to deliver the right aid at the right time. The relevant legislation, Section 17 of the Mental Health Act of Ontario, provides some guidance to officers; however, it focuses more on the conditions under which an officer can respond, rather than providing instructions for how to respond.

Furthermore, during the transfer of care process (when the person in crisis is transferred to a hospital), officers can have difficulty expressing their observations in clinical terms. This can create communication barriers between the officer and emergency room staff.

HealthIM seeks to solve this issue by offering police services proactive mental health technology that allows officers to rapidly capture their observations in clinical terms, and quickly share those observations with the appropriate health care partners.

The company was founded in 2014 by two University of Waterloo graduates, Daniel Mackenzie and Daniel Pearson-Hirdes, who have known each other since high school and studied computer science and psychology, respectively. The co-founders also share a strong passion for helping persons with mental illness receive better support.

The company's idea took off when MacKenzie and Pearson-Hirdes were introduced to Dr. Ron Hoffman, an associate fellow with InterRAI, an international not-for-profit organization focused on assessing the needs of vulnerable populations. Hoffman is the creator of a unique paper-based mental health assessment tool for police called the Brief Mental Health Screener (BMHS).

HealthIM's solution was originally piloted on an iPad in a Niagara Emergency Room, but Pearson-Hirdes and MacKenzie soon began working with police organizations to bring the technology into the field. Now accessible from a tablet located within a police cruiser, HealthIM's software allows police to use on-site risk assessment to determine a person's risk of harm to self, harm to others, and ability to care for themselves.

The system then assists in the officer's efforts to coordinate care with local health services.

"Our solution uses and explains the clinical language that medical professionals require if the individual is escorted to a hospital for treatment, and also provides direct connections to community based mental health services to divert those who would otherwise be needlessly hospitalized. The result is a system where more people with mental illness are connected with the appropriate level of support, sooner," says Pearson-Hirdes.

HealthIM has successfully piloted and launched with the Brantford Police Service, who has called it the "glue that holds its community's mental health framework together."

"This has been a game changer," says Chuck Dowdall, executive director of St. Leonard's Community Services, a Brantford-based provider of services for persons with mental illness. St. Leonard's participates in the HealthIM trial alongside the Brantford police, the Brant Community Healthcare System, and other mental health agencies.

"As an agency, we want to be able to provide the right service at the right place at the right time to the individual," says Dowdall. "The [mental health collaborative] initiative speaks volumes to how this community has come together to make sure a person receives the right service at the right time and at the right place. It also ensures there will be no gaps in service going forward for these individuals needing assistance."

"This [community connection] has become a very critical part of the work undertaken by our mobile crisis unit," adds Brantford Police Chief Geoff Nelson. "Previously, only 27 per cent of those we did not apprehend were connected to community mental health services. That left 73 per cent of those we engaged on that treadmill [not getting the help they needed]. Now, 100 per cent of those we engage are connected with community services, or provided information about available services.1"

HealthIM's solution is finding success, with pilot projects deployed by the London Police Service and the Niagara Regional Police Service. The inspector responsible for Brantford Police Services' HealthIM implementation has had his phone ringing off the hook with inquiries about the software, and the company recently participated in meetings with the Government of Ontario to discuss support for the system at the provincial level.

"This is a way to save police resources, while helping persons with mental illness receive the appropriate support quickly," says Pearson-Hirdes. "We're now able to tie all pieces of the mental health strategy into a cohesive system."


1. Ball, Vincent. "This has been a game changer". Brantford Expositor. April 20th, 2016.