The Region of Waterloo and paramedic services are looking to change the way mental health and addiction calls are treated.

Currently, the only approved destination paramedics can take patients after a 911 call is to a hospital with an emergency room. However, the region is now considering diverting patients dealing with a mental health crisis to an alternative clinic.

“The hope in this idea is that we can work together collaboratively to provide some relief for our hospital sector partners,” said Chief John Riches, with Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services. “But most importantly, the message really is about trying to make sure that patients who are suffering from mental health and addictions type concerns are getting the right care, at the right location, from the right provider at the right time.”

The Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo-Wellington (CMHAWW) said sending mental health or addictions patients to the hospital is not always appropriate, as it could lead to some falling through the cracks.

“People do attend the hospital for mental health crisis and unfortunately have been known to leave without being seen, and when that happens, it results in poor outcomes,” said Jeff Stanlick, the Director of Services with CMHAWW.

“We know that in London, they’ve used this model and we have evidence that it is effective,” said Stanlick. “People who have used this service say they’ve experienced relief that they didn’t have to go to the emergency department or to the hospital. We also heard from people that they feel calmer when they have the experience of visiting a clinic rather than the hospital.”

Riches said in 2022, more than 10 per cent of calls to paramedics in Waterloo region, were mental health calls.

He said creating an alternative clinic for mental health and addictions patients can also help reduce stress on and already strained health care system.

Paramedics in Waterloo region have been dealing with increasing call volumes, prompting the service to declare “Code Reds,” where there aren’t enough ambulances to respond to emergency calls.

“There’s a lot of reasons that go into why Code Red situations occur, one of them being offload delays,” said Riches. “[That’s] a primary driver.”

If the alternative clinic is approved by the province of Ontario, the clinic would be made up of community partners, including support workers, people with lived experiences, and medical professionals.

The proposal is still in its early stages, and funding still needs to be secured from the province.