Serving Most Vulnerable Together

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 8 a.m. January 27, 2019

Nearly seven years ago, Constable Joanna Wright received a call from Toronto East General Hospital, now Michael Garron Hospital (MGH), about an elderly woman who was constantly being treated by their mental health team.

A woman in TPS uniform holding a glass award
Constable Joanna Wright was honoured with the Michael Garron Hospital Community Partner of Distinction Award

The name rang a bell with the 54 Division officer.

“It kept showing up on my desk and I thought it was odd,” recalled Wright. “Her son was going to a Justice of the Peace for permission to get police to make an apprehension and take her to the hospital for assessment, yet they were not keeping her there. When I called the hospital, they told me they also felt something wasn’t right.”

While meeting with the elderly woman and a member of the hospital’s psychiatric unit, the son showed up.

“From talking to him, I knew something was wrong,” said Wright. “It turned out he was trying to get his mom out of the home they shared so he could have sole ownership.”

An investigation was launched that led police to the home where they recovered an arsenal of weapons and bomb-making material and charged accordingly.

Wright is convinced that a more serious incident was averted because of the partnership between police and the hospital on this case.

“The hospital was able to keep her a little longer so we could make sure the residence was safe for her to return and the police did a little extra work to ensure this woman’s safety,” said Wright.

On January 14 this year, the veteran officer was the recipient of the MGH inaugural Community Partner of Distinction Award.

“While I am profoundly touched by this honour, I feel that this award should also be for all the hospital members that I have worked with in the last decade,” she said. “We have worked in partnership, not silos, to help those that are most in need. It has been an opportunity to network with a wonderful team that has helped me to be more productive in my work to assist the most vulnerable members of our community in East York. There is a lot of overlap between policing and healthcare. The people we see are often vulnerable populations that the hospital serve.”

In the last decade, Wright has worked closely with the hospital’s emergency department to help reduce wait times, collaborated with hospital units to address safety and security concerns and helped patients and staff take part in workplace violence prevention training sessions and programs aimed at identifying signs of domestic abuse.

“Michael Garron has an incredible team of professionals and it has often struck me what a close knit community it is,” she said. “Patients and families in East York are very devoted to this hospital and the staff create a welcoming space for the community they serve.”

Wright’s professional, kind and compassionate approach made it easy for hospital staff to respect her.

“She’s a household name in the hospital community and our ‘phone a friend’ for the last 10 years,” said Janice Ward, the manager of Quality & Safety.

Wright has also worked closely with the hospital social workers over the years.

“Not only is Joanna reliable, dependable and prompt, but she’s an invaluable resource when it comes to providing information and following up in the community with our most complex and challenging patients,” noted MGH social worker Alina Mustata.

Joining the Service straight out of high school 30 years ago, Wright spent 17 years at 33 Division before being transferred to 53 Division where she worked in schools. She has been at 54 Division, which recently merged with 55 Division, for the past 10 years.

“As a teenager, I considered nursing as a career, but I have never regretted the choice to become a police officer in the city I have lived in all my life,” she said. “Policing allows me to help people and give back in a place where I have a vested interest in.”

Working with hospital leaders to help establish a Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT) in East Toronto in 2013 is one of the highlights of her professional career.

MCIT teams respond to calls involving people in mental health crises, including thoughts of suicide or self-harm threats, distorted or psychotic thinking, and anxiety, overwhelming depression and temporary breakdowns.

The officer and the nurse assess an individual's specific needs, provide intervention and support at the scene, de-escalate the situation and ensure the person is connected to appropriate services. The MCIT provides a secondary response to 9-1-1 calls involving people experiencing a psychiatric or emotional crisis that requires intervention.

“Far too often, people suffering from mental health illness end up in a hospital emergency department when they really don’t need to be there,” she said. “The beauty of the MCIT program is that it diverts those that absolutely don’t need to be there.”

Wright is a member of her station’s Community Investigative Support Unit established in each Division as part of the modernization plan to manage lower priority calls for service.

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