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Startup wins award for mental illness system

Daniel Pearson-HirdesWATERLOO, Ont. – HealthIM, a software company seeking to improve the treatment of mentally ill people who have encounters with the police, was among the big winners at the Velocity Fund Finals, held this month at the University of Waterloo. Velocity is an entrepreneurship program at the University of Waterloo.

Founded by two Waterloo graduates from computer science and the psychology and business program, HealthIM synchronizes law enforcement and healthcare systems. Their software is based on the interRAI brief mental health screener.

“We’re essentially translating the officers’ observations into clinical language for the health practitioners, giving hospital staff a glimpse of what happened at the scene of an incident,” Daniel MacKenzie, co-founder of HealthIM, told the Kitchener Record. “Today’s win will help us to grow our team and bring this to as many police services as possible.”

The company won a $25,000 award.

During the competition, 10 companies pitched their businesses to a panel of judges representing the investment, startup and business communities. Judges considered innovation, market potential, market viability and overall pitch.

Two police departments in Ontario are already using HealthIM’s software to help officers and emergency room staff improve the care of emotionally disturbed people. Police regularly encounter the mentally ill and emotionally distraught – 10 million times a year across North America, said Daniel Pearson-Hirdes (pictured), HealthIM’s co-founder.

Police want to move the person in crisis as quickly as possible into a hospital. That starts with an arrest and then a drive to the hospital. The officer tells the admitting nurse what happened, and she writes down her interpretation on a chart. This process takes too long and loses too much valuable information, Pearson-Hirdes said.

Using HealthIM’s software, which runs on tablets inside patrol cars, officers ask a series of questions designed to identify mental health symptoms and record the officer’s observations. All of the information is summarized in a clinical report that is sent from the patrol car to the emergency room.

“That means while the officers are transporting the person to hospital, the hospital staff are already reviewing the details,” Pearson-Hirdes said. Upon arrival at the hospital, the person in crisis is admitted immediately.

In the past year, HealthIM’s software has been used by 800 officers dealing with 1,400 people in crisis. The software reduced emergency room wait times by 57 percent, saving the Niagara police department more than $200,000 a year, Pearson-Hirdes said.

HealthIM approached hundreds of police departments about its software, and 94 percent are interested, he said.

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