Around this time last year, the Toronto Star ran a 2,300 word article about how the police are changing the way they deal with the mentally ill. Or, to put it more bluntly, how the police are trying not to shoot and kill so many mentally ill people.
The Star quoted my mom throughout the article and slapped a picture of her on the front page. The reporter had spent a few days tagging along with my mom as she went about her job as the head of the mobile crisis-intervention team at St. Michael's Hospital.
She goes out on emergency calls with the police whenever they have to deal with mentally ill people (the result of a coroner's inquest after Toronto police shot and killed a guy with schizophrenia who refused to drop a hammer he had raised when confronted by police in 1997). Basically, she’s there to difuse the situtation and avoid a violent confrontation.
It seems to be working. In the 1980s, the Toronto Police shot five to seven people a year. Over the past five years, that number has come down to about 2.8 shootings a year (as reported in the Toronto Star).
Since the Star article appeared, my mom has become something of a spokesperson on the issue. This week, she’s featured in Time Magazine, which did a huge cover story on St. Michael’s Hospital.
For those unfamiliar with St. Michael’s, the magazine describes it as an institution that “has served the gritty east side of Toronto’s downtown core, a place that today deals with some of the country’s richest and poorest residents and a high percentage of its newest immigrants. It is also a major trauma center, handling a catalog of catastrophe, including dozens of gunshot and stabbing victims each year.”
Here’s an excerpt from this week’s Time Magazine featuring my mom:
Nurse Ellen Marchildon and Constable Lisa Belanger gently guide a thirtysomething woman out of a police car and into the emergency room. The woman doesn’t seem to know them today, though normally they are all on a first-name basis. Marchildon and Belanger have helped her before, during earlier dramas when she would insist on being admitted to the hospital. Indeed, says Marchildon, a senior crisis worker on the mobile crisis-intervention team (MCIT), the troubled woman (whose name is withheld to protect her privacy) used to show up at the hospital regularly.
Lately, however, she has been isolating herself in her room at a group home, not showering or taking care of herself. But that doesn’t mean the hospital no longer serves her. When case manager Kam Bardouille from St. Michael’s dropped by and realized she was in bad shape, Bardouille asked the MCIT to take the woman to the hospital. The home’s staff reported she had lain down in the middle of a road. Marchildon decides she is a danger to herself—grounds for Belanger to use powers of arrest if necessary. At the hospital they shepherd her through the chaotic ER and into a quiet room for psychiatric patients, then entrust her to staff. . .
You can read the rest of the story here.