Ottawa Paramedic Service launches Mental Wellbeing Response Team

Published on
June 7, 2022

The Ottawa Paramedic Service, in partnership with The Ottawa Hospital, has launched the Mental Wellbeing Response Team. This new initiative aims to improve short- and long-term health outcomes for emergency calls received by the Ottawa Paramedic Service through 9-1-1 that are non-violent and non-criminal, and where mental health and substance use are contributing factors.

Each day, the Ottawa Paramedic Service responds to approximately 25 mental health related calls from 9-1-1. Many of these individuals are needlessly transported to a hospital when other care options may be more appropriate.

Historically, paramedics have been limited to providing immediate medical assessment and treatment only. Now, through the Mental Wellbeing Response Team, individuals may receive a medical and mental health assessment, as well as resource referrals and follow-up mental health care.

The Team includes a specially trained City paramedic partnered with a mental health professional, such as a registered social worker from The Ottawa Hospital, a partner organization. The paramedic does the medical assessment and provides any necessary medical treatment while the mental health professional conducts a mental health assessment, develops a care plan, provides safety planning, and can even schedule follow-up care as needed.

In the three months that the new Team has been on the road, they have responded to multiple calls each day. Of these, more than 50 per cent have not required transportation to hospital.

The new Mental Wellbeing Response Team demonstrates the success of partners working together to respond to the needs of Ottawa’s communities and providing individuals with the most appropriate health care when and where they need it.

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“The Mental Wellbeing Response Team is a great example of what can be achieved by listening closely to our community’s needs and engaging collaboratively with health care partners. I’m proud of the Ottawa Paramedic Service’s dedication to this initiative and the success of its early days.”

Mayor Jim Watson

“I’m delighted to see the implementation of this new model of community-based response and treatment for individuals experiencing mental health and substance use challenges. It’s sure to make a difference in the lives of the people cared for and their loved ones.”

Councillor Matthew Luloff, Chair of the Community and Protective Services Committee

“The Ottawa Hospital’s (TOH) Mobile Crisis Team is pleased to partner with the Ottawa Paramedic Service to form the Mental Wellbeing Response Team. Since the launch of this partnership, the team has successfully diverted patients from our city’s emergency departments and provided on-scene support, crisis intervention, and referrals to community services. We are proud to be able to support our patients and our community by providing high-quality mental health care and improving the overall patient experience.”

Shannon Turcotte, RN BScN, Clinical Manager, Mobile Crisis Team Project Lead, Mental Wellness Response Team, The Ottawa Hospital

“The Mental Wellbeing Response Team is a great example of collaboration between the Ottawa Paramedic Service and the Ottawa Guiding Council. The Team and other Guiding Council initiatives are providing our diverse communities with improved mental health care, when and where they need it most.”

Michelle James, Rashmi Luther, and Marisa Moher, Co-chairs of the Ottawa Guiding Council for Mental and Addictions Strategy


Project partners

The Ottawa Paramedic Service, in partnership with The Ottawa Hospital, has launched a new initiative - the Mental Wellbeing Response Team.

The Ottawa Paramedic Service engaged in living experience consultations with diverse groups to inform the development and delivery of this new service and continues to explore opportunities to include community voices in their approach. This new model aligns with other mental health strategies, including the City of Ottawa Community Safety and Well-Being Plan, approved by Council on October 27, 2021, and the Ottawa Guiding Council for a Mental Health and Addictions Strategy. Ottawa Paramedic Service Chief Pierre Poirier is a member of the Council. The Canadian Mental Health Association is also a key partner, assisting with community consultations, clinical training for Team members and a physical space for administrative use by the Team.

The Ottawa Paramedic Service is measuring the outcomes of this initiative in alignment with the Community Safety and Well-being Plan, as well as the Ministry of Health’s evaluation framework.

New model of care

The Mental Wellbeing Response Team operates under a new provincial Ministry of Health ‘treat and refer’ model of care, which means patients experiencing mental health and/or substance use issues can receive appropriate care in the community (outside a hospital setting).

The new service approach also aims to remove anything potentially triggering or stigmatizing related to mental health and substance use. The Team operates out of an unmarked vehicle (not an ambulance) and Team members wear a casual uniform of khaki pants and a golf shirt.

Early results

In the three months that the new Team has been on the road, they’ve responded to multiple calls each day.

In one case, a regular Paramedic crew had already responded to the 9-1-1 call, and they requested the Mental Wellbeing Response Team. The Team took over care of the individual, conducted a thorough mental health examination, performed a safety assessment and subsequent safety planning, and registered the individual for follow-up care the next day. Once the Team assumed care, the ambulance was free to respond swiftly to a nearby emergency call for a cardiac arrest, where the individual was successfully defibrillated, revived and transported to hospital.

Another call came from a family member concerned about a loved one with new mental health symptoms. The Team responded, again putting an ambulance back in the community for other calls. The Team provided medical and mental health care for the individual and created a care plan to support the patient and family at home, where all were able to remain. The Team assisted the individual with access to prescribed medications, made a referral to community resources, and connected the individual with The Ottawa Hospital’s Mobile Crisis Team roster who followed up with the individual at home the next day.