Published on Sunday July 29, 2012
RICK EGLINTON/TORONTO STAR
Since the shooting of Michael Eligon by police in February, residents of East York have been asking for a mobile crisis intervention team to help de-escalate confrontations with mentally ill patients.
Ontario has declared mental health a priority, shielding it from the cutbacks other public services are facing.
But to residents of East York, that commitment rings hollow. Desperate for help after the shooting of a psychiatric patient by police and a series of other “code yellow” incidents (unauthorized departures from their local hospital), 60 of them signed a petition last week pleading for a mobile crisis intervention team.
These teams, already operating in 10 of the city’s neighbourhoods, pair a front-line police officer with a mental-health nurse. They have the skills to de-escalate confrontations that could end in injury or death, acting as a safety valve for police and a lifesaver for people with sometimes violent mental disorders.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is eager to establish a crisis intervention team in East York and he has a willing partner in Toronto East General Hospital
Together, the police service and the hospital have filed two applications to the Ontario Health Ministry, one in 2010, one in 2011. Both failed.
The ministry sent them to the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), which makes local funding decisions. It turned them down. A third application is now being prepared.
Last week’s community meeting was organized by city councillors Janet Davis (Beaches-East York) and Mary Fragedakis (Toronto-Danforth) to address residents’ concerns about their own security and the tragic fate of too many people with mental illness.
For Davis, this issue has become personal. She lives on the street where 29-year-old Michael Eligon, clad in a hospital gown and brandishing scissors, was shot to death in February by a police officer. There were dozens of horrified witnesses. “It’s so clear to me that we don’t have the resources to intervene in a way that will prevent unnecessary harm,” she says. “We have let down Michael Eligon and so many others.”
A mobile crisis team would not be a cure-all but it would certainly help. It would reduce the need for lethal force, alleviate pressure on emergency medical services and reassure residents.
Moreover, it would be a bargain. All the province would have to contribute is funding for one psychiatric nurse (about $125,000 a year). The police would handle all the rest: provide the officer, do the training and run the program.
Every part of the city would benefit from having one of these teams. But nowhere is the need greater than East York, where a hospital with a psychiatric ward is located in the middle of a residential district. Police have known this for years by the number of “emotionally disturbed person” calls they were getting from the area.
Health Minister Deb Matthews has a simple, affordable opportunity to tackle a serious mental health challenge. All she has to do is say yes and make sure her officials get the message.