Since the spring, the Capella Centre in St. Paul has been offering Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART) services.

The DART program started in Red Deer in 2017. Earlier this year, Alberta Health Services (AHS) announced the program would expand into 23 more communities, funded by a $2.3 million provincial government grant. St. Paul and Bonnyville are among the communities where DART is now offered.

Albertans can request DART services at Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health emergency departments, urgent care centres, and select maternity wards in any of these communities.

Healthcare providers are also proactively screening patients for domestic violence and offering DART services.

“We know domestic violence impacts a person’s health and it isn’t always physical. Domestic violence can take many forms, including mental, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse,” says Dr. Nicholas Mitchell, Provincial Medical Director Addiction and Mental Health. “Through the Domestic Abuse Response Team, we are able to help people and connect them to services immediately.”

Lorea Willington, a supervisor at Capella Centre, says healthcare staff talk to women and will offer DART if they believe domestic violence has taken place.

“When a woman goes into the hospital because of domestic violence they will talk with her and they will offer her our DART program,” Willington said. 

“She has to agree with the DART program. Then the hospital contacts us. Now we can bring her into the shelter to make sure she has a safe and secure place. We can speak with her over the phone or do a Zoom meeting with her if she chooses not to come into the shelter,” she said. “Our response team coordinator will ask if we can keep in touch with her and communicate with her to support her.”

The centre has a number of programs to help women escape dangerous and unhealthy domestic environments. 

“We have group sessions every day. Groups talk about boundaries and the cycle of abuse and goal setting and other things to help them out,” Willington said. “We support them with their Alberta Works, native counselling, a lot of referrals.”

There are two outreach programs at the Capella Centre. In one, a worker will talk with all the women that come into the shelter so that when they leave, they will have ongoing support.

The other is the Community Outreach Program, which reaches out to women who have never come to the shelter but who may need help and support. This program operates in cooperation with the RCMP.

Domestic abuse is not limited by age, economic status, or other factors. “It’s all over the place,” Willington said. “We’ve had a few senior ladies in here fleeing abuse. And I think a lot of people aren’t aware that it does happen to our senior people.”

Willington is able to help older adults in a number of ways.

“I have a lot of experience working with seniors. I can help them apply for seniors’ benefits,” she said. “I can help them apply for their CPP, their old age security if they haven’t done that yet. And even for them to get set up in a home and how to qualified to get that microwave or that bed.

“I’ve taken a lot of training on that, so we can help our senior ladies that do come in here.”

For many, DART is an important first step—a supportive contact that can start women on a path to getting help they might not have known was there.

“A lot of the women are not aware of the support and the help they can get, or what is available within the community for support,” Willington said. 

“Also, when a woman calls us and asks to come into this shelter, that’s a very big step for her. It’s just very hard for a woman to make that decision. So by having the DART program, at least that woman has the support from the hospital staff to introduce the program and let them know what it’s about.”

“It’s really hard for the woman to make that first phone call to see if she can come into the shelter, Willington said. “We never judge the women or the choices they’ve made in life. Never, ever, ever.”

If you or someone you know is impacted by family violence, help is available. You do not need to be in crisis to access support.

Check for resources in your area by calling Health Link at 811. The Family Violence Info Line (310-1818) is also available toll-free 24 hours a day, in more than 170 languages.