To better provide for our community's mental health care needs, North York General Hospital has partnered with the Toronto Police Service in the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT) program since 2014.
MCITs consist of a specially trained police officer and a mental health nurse who respond to 911 emergency and dispatch calls, seven days a week between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. In this program, the police officer and the registered nurse respond to calls for assistance involving individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis. According to their statistics, Toronto police receive an average of 70 mental health calls each day or approximately 25,000 calls each year.
The officer and nurse together assess the individual's specific needs, provide intervention and support at the scene, de-escalate the situation, and ensure the person is connected to appropriate services.
Two North York General MCIT nurses who were honoured for two very different reasons, share their experiences on the job.
While accustomed to expecting the unexpected, one particular phone call caught MCIT Nurse Lisa Pritchard a bit off guard. The police chief was hosting a community town hall and requested that Lisa and her police partner speak at the event. There was one slight catch: the town hall was the next day.
“It was a bit of a scramble,” she remembers. Still, never one to shy away from a challenge, Lisa immediately set to work preparing and, in 24 hours, found herself explaining her role as an MCIT nurse to a crowd of nearly 500. “It was a real honour,” Lisa says. “Our role is essentially to serve the community so I was happy to oblige.”
Her talk would garner her and her partner an official letter of commendation filled with praises from the Toronto police chief; however, sharing her role and passion to deliver this service comes easy to Lisa. She also enjoys working with Toronto police — men and women, she says, who are some of the most dedicated people she's ever known. “This job is absolutely what I'm supposed to do and I live for it,” Lisa says. “To be able to help people when they really need it, I couldn't think of a better profession.”
Still, answering distress calls, which can range from dementia to suicide, is a heavy responsibility. “While it's rewarding, I take being an MCIT nurse very seriously and approach each situation with a fresh pair of eyes,” she says. “Sometimes, a crisis is not what it seems: a mental health issue can also be a result of a physical condition. You need to be vigilant.”
She recounts one situation where a woman appeared incoherent and agitated but blood work revealed an underlying medical problem. “It's a good thing we took this person straight to the emergency department,” Lisa says. “Luckily, we were able to get her the help she needed.”
“I consider working as an MCIT nurse a huge privilege,” says Roberto Iasci. “It's a role I feel I was put on earth to do. When I'm working, I'm completely in the moment and fully engaged in helping people in crisis.”
That's how Roberto, his police partner and two other officers found themselves working together to help rescue a man on a 6-inch ledge, ready to jump from the fourth storey of a building. “My partner went to one side of the man — who was obviously in a very bad place — and I went to the other,” he remembers. Trying their best to coax him down, the team saw their opportunity to pull the man back when he became preoccupied with his phone.
“My partner and I acted in sync because we've developed a strong partnership,” Roberto says. “It's important to have that type of unspoken communication in an emergency.” For their quick-thinking actions, Roberto and his partner received a special commendation from the police chief.
“We are all human beings who struggle and deserve to be treated with humanity,” says Roberto. “I try to act as a blanket of calm and support during a very difficult moment in someone's life. It's such an honour to serve and I wouldn't want to do anything else.”