Maskwacis Mobile Mental Health Services recognized for compassionate care to students in crisis

Wolf Creek Public Schools selected them for the 2021 Friends of Education Award

Maskwacis Mobile Mental Health Services logo.

An organization that is dedicated to serving the mental health needs of its community members through the values of love, kinship and respect has been recognized.

Maskwacis Mobile Mental Health Services (MMMHS), part of the Maskwacis Ambulance Authority, was named the 2021 recipient of the Wolf Creek Public Schools Friends of Education Award. They were nominated by the BRICK Learning Centre (BLC) in Ponoka for their ongoing support, intervention, and education to staff and students.

“They provide an invaluable service to our students, above and beyond what we’re able to do in the school,” said Ian Tisdale, principal of BLC.

The nomination was made by Tisdale and Candice Dickson, school social worker.

“Over the years, we have been able to have an amazing relationship with (MMMHS manager) Steve Skakum and others at the Maskwacis Mobile Mental Health Unit,” said Tisdale in his nomination submission.

“There are times when the needs of the students cannot be reasonably met by the resources in our school. Having an agency like this allows us to bridge connections to these students when they leave the school.”

MMMHS provides in-school services to staff, as well as providing a monthly health and wellness check for staff and helping them become better with their students, says Tisdale.

MMMHS connects with students and their families in times of crisis, including suicide prevention, and has provided staff at the BLC with professional development around grief and trauma from an Indigenous perspective.

“Over the years, they have provided innumerable supports for our school that have led to overwhelming student success,” said Tisdale.

“They meet our students where they are at in order to help them move forward.”

The BLC caters to a wide range of students who need an alternative form of education, including those who need more advanced courses to challenge them and those who come from high risk environments, says Tisdale.

The school also works with adult students to help them complete their high school diploma.

There are 30 graduating students this year. They will be celebrated with a joint parade with the Town of Ponoka, Ponoka Secondary Campus and St. Augustine School on June 3, and their own grad ceremony on June 4.

MMMHS serves members of the Four Nations of Maskwacis as well as Pigeon Lake First Nation.

Skakum says he wasn’t aware MMMHS was nominated, but he thinks receiving the award is exciting and he’s happy the program is being recognized.

“It’s an entire team effort,” said Skakum.

“It’s their hard work and dedication to serve in the population in regards to mental health — that’s the most important part,” he said.

The MMMHS started about seven years ago, with just one person operating one-on-one with those in crisis.

“Over time we’ve expanded and taken in more calls from police and ambulance,” said Steve Skakum, manager of MMMHS.

He added that they are now able to do some preventative work and trauma-based education with their partners, rather than just responding during a crisis.

The small, dedicated team operates a 24-hour crisis line.

The also have a couple of vehicles to transport them to their patients when they’re in crisis. The idea behind being a mobile unit is that they have the capability to respond in-person, no matter where the patient is.

“They have 24-hour access to a real human being and that human being has the ability to get out to a scene,” said Skakum.

MMMHS works closely with the police and ambulance to respond to those experiencing a mental health crisis or a tragic event.

After the police secure a scene and the ambulance takes away anyone who is injured, that is when the members of the mobile mental health unit step in to provide trauma response, comfort and support.

If you can provide some comfort right after a traumatic event, it can reduce the negative response and triggers down the road, says Skakum.

That philosophy is taken from when children are born, it isn’t traumatic, because they are immediately comforted by their mother, and they felt that was why, he says.

After responding to a crisis, they will connect the patient with further services and resources and make a safety plan when required.

They also provide what is called compassionate referral, where they will actually attend the first appointment with a patient to give them emotional support.

They work with schools like the BLC to provide trauma-informed information.

“One of the goals is to make people more informed about trauma, and the effects it has on a person,” said Skakum.

For more information visit maskwacis-mmh.com. To access the hotline, call 780-363-2150.

The Friends of Education Award recognizes school councils, parent advisory committees, individuals and/or organizations in the community not employed by WCPS that have made a special contribution to education within the division.

WCPS’s board of trustees received 10 nominations for the award and selected MMMHS for their outreach to students, and for providing, “significant professional development for staff and supports (for) school social workers.”

The deadline for nominations was in March and the nominations were reviewed by the board at their regular meeting in April.

The other nominees were local artist Tamera Goller who painted the lockers at Bluffton School to look like spines of books, the Friends of Crestomere (they received three nominations), GTI Petroleum (Eckville Elementary), the Blackfalds IGA (Iron Ridge Junior Campus), Lacombe Connex (Lacombe Composite High School), Lacombe Boston Pizza (Lacombe Upper Elementary and Lacombe Junior High School) and school volunteer Lana Davis (Rimbey Elementary School).

All nominees will be receiving a certificate of recognition.

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