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As the world hunkers down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Luther alumna Joann (McIlwrick) Mundin (HS’90, U’94) is busier than ever. The Associate Director of Psychiatry for the Las Vegas Police Department Clark County Detention Center continues to spend her days tending to the mental health needs of thousands of inmates, while following pandemic protocols to help curb the deadly virus.
“We typically admit 72,000 inmates on an annual basis while they await trial or sentencing,” she says. “Our facility is just two blocks away from the Las Vegas strip, which is now silent after the Governor ordered a complete shutdown of all casinos March 16. In normal times, we deal with plenty of tourists and convention participants who run into trouble, but our primary focus is to take care of Nevadans with criminal problems who have mental health issues.”
Joann has three portfolios: overseeing patient care with her team of mental health specialists, educating officers on the effects of segregation (inmates “in the hole”), and working to ensure the Detention Centre receives psychiatric accreditation. “We’re hoping to become the second such facility of its kind in the U.S. to receive that designation, which of course requires meetings, research, and education.”
Joann’s career trajectory mirrors a motivational movie. She originally thought she’d become an eye doctor, but after graduating with a bio-chem degree in 1994 from the University of Regina she was turned down from optometry school. “It was the first of many disappointments, but Luther taught me that I could do anything. I think I’m such a big thinker because that was the mindset instilled in me,” she enthuses. “Our teacher Steve Haddad invited us to go sailing at his place on Lake Diefenbaker, and we learned how to harness the wind. He taught us to think big, be open-minded, and seek travel and adventure because anything was possible!”
Joann was accepted into medical school but discovered she didn’t like blood – “something I realized was a bit of a problem,” she laughs. Undaunted, she decided that the field of psychiatry was where her talents could best be used. “I ended up at the Foothills Teaching Hospital in Calgary in 2003 – a time when the city was booming – and it wasn’t long before I was offered a position as Assistant Dean of the Medical School. It was ridiculous that I built this incredible resume in just seven years.”
From there, Joann was recruited by the State of Nevada to become a state psychiatrist in Las Vegas. Then, in November 2019, she was asked to head up the Detention Centre’s psychiatric unit. Throughout her journey, the spirit of Luther has been her guiding force. “My 16-year-old stepson attends a Lutheran high school in Vegas, and I’m reliving my own experience through him as he attends chapel and takes Christian ethics. At the front of the school property is a sign that says ‘Return with Honour.’ Every day, I make it my duty to do the same by honouring future generations of students back home in Regina.”
Joann funds three annual Luther College High School scholarships totalling $1,500 for students who show the most resiliency. “I wasn’t the smartest academic or the best athlete,” she admits. “I was known as the girl with the camera always taking pictures. I had to work really hard in spite of some hardships and a death in the family. That’s why I wanted to ‘pay it forward’ and honour other students facing similar challenges.”
These scholarships were started while Joann was still in medical school and money wasn’t always flush, but she stresses it “had to be done – that’s just the Luther way!” As she contemplates her career today, with the love and support of her husband and stepson, Joann acknowledges that COVID-19 is having a dramatic impact on everyone’s mental health, not just inmates shuttered inside her institution. “I’m in the right place at the right time, and the lessons learned from Luther are guiding me every day on how to make a difference.”