He once ran down the football field, as a three-year varsity football player, and around the track as a four-year member of the track and field team.
These days, Eric Ford, De La Salle Collegiate Class of ‘86, enjoys a leisurely walk from his home on Chandler Park Drive, on the east side of Detroit, to Ascension St. John Hospital on Moross.
Ford is employed in a specialized unit established at St. John’s a few years ago. Hospital administrators realized that psych patients were occupying a lot of beds in the emergency room.
The administration determined that once the psych patients were medically cleared, they could be moved to the new unit, while awaiting placement to other locations.
For Ford, a veteran worker in similar situations, the job is “a perfect fit.”
After a red-shirt freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, Ford was slated to be a starter his sophomore year before a foot injury sidelined him.
His junior year, he earned a starting position, and played in the first two games against Michigan and Iowa.
Then he blew out his knee, requiring reconstruction; he was already dealing with back injuries from practice.
He took a year off to rehabilitate his knee, and fortunately, his athletic scholarship became a medical one, allowing him to complete his degree. He earned his bachelor’s in Child and Family Studies in 1991, and returned to Detroit.
A chance encounter with the late John Vitale, ‘84, led Ford to a lengthy job at Wolverine Human Services, then housed in the rectory of Guardian Angels parish at Mayfield and Hayes. Vitale and Ford were football teammates at DLS before Vitale went on to the University of Michigan.
“I was driving on Alter Rd., near my home in Detroit, and saw this huge guy getting out of a car,” Ford said. “I realized it was John, and pulled over. He told me ‘You’ve got a job when you come back.’ And sure enough, that job was waiting for me because of our DLS connection.”
Ford worked with Vitale for seven years, working his way up to become treatment director.
“We worked with over 500 kids, ages 10-18,” Ford said. “These were all ‘adjudicated’ kids, meaning the courts had placed them with us. Sadly, in all that time, we only had what I would call three success stories.”
Ford says he was burned out. After 30 days off, he decided to resign, with the support of his wife Joy.
He had a short stint with a facility conducted by Mercy Hospital before joining the staff at Kingswood Hospital’s mental health unit in Detroit. During his 17 years there, Ford handled training for new employees, and later moved into management.
He also had training in autism, and became an autism specialist in 2013.
Along the way, he became a crisis prevention instructor, teaching employees the basics of how to protect themselves in a psychiatric setting. “There are ways to protect yourself without injuring the patient,” Ford said.
When St. John’s established the new psychiatric unit in 2018, the hospital recruited Ford.
“There are 34 bed in the emergency room, and psychiatric patients were there three to four days,” Ford said. “Now, once they are medically stabilized, they move to my unit, which houses 12 patients. We inform them of the process, and work to find placement at other treatment centers when beds become available.”
Ford works 12-hour shifts, with a staff of three.
During the winter, the numbers generally increase, and this past winter was no exception.
“A lot of the patients are homeless, and a lot are truly in need, with schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder,” Ford said. “But psychiatric problems don’t discriminate, and we might see a homeless person, followed by a prominent lawyer.”
Ford and his wife Joy, a Regina High School graduate, are the parents of three children.
Ford first met Joy at a friend’s party, and they later realized she had lived in an MSU dorm room adjacent to another friend. “We were probably at 1,000 events together before actually meeting,” Ford said. They married in 1997.
Joy works in marketing for a company in Romulus, near Metro Airport. Their two daughters, Madison and Jordan, also Regina alumnae, are now in college at Wayne State University; youngest child Eric is currently a high school freshman.
Ford is in regular contact with his grade school friend, and high school teammate, Allen Jefferson.
He has coached at De La Salle from time to time, and was particularly thrilled to coach Alex Guyon, also from St. Ambrose. “He broke my record, and I couldn’t have been prouder,” Ford said.
He developed a love of painting after two years of art courses with former faculty member Bill Littlejohn. Ford is proud of the Art medal he won at his 1986 graduation.
He prefers acrylics, and says that what he paints, he gives away.
Ford posts pictures on Instagram under the name detroitred31.
“I love my job,” he said. “We’re still finding our way. Sometimes I feel like I need a bed! But you see a guy who comes in and doesn’t even know his name, and then he’s ready to leave, and I know I have made a difference in his life.”