Polar Plunge raises $33K in cold cash for Special Olympics

Members of Atrium’s Department of Public Safety generated $820 as part of its outreach program.

MIDDLETOWN — As community outreach officer of Atrium Medical Center’s Department of Public Safety, A.J. Pearson always has to be prepared for the unexpected.

Sometimes, as a hospital police officer, he faces the delicate balance of dealing with loved ones in high stress situations or fragile patients who may be struggling with mental health issues in addition to physical ailments.

So to prepare for the Polar Plunge Feb. 3 at Caesar Creek State Park, Pearson took several ice baths to acclimate his body to the lake’s freezing temperatures. The others in the group were “not used to the cold” water, he said with a laugh.

The Polar Plunge on Feb. 3 raised $33,000 for Special Olympics and the five-member Atrium team generated $820, one of the top 10 teams, according to a hospital official.

Pearson, 41, who has worked at Atrium since October 2022, has made it his mission to have campus police more active in the community. The 25-person department, which includes police officers, security specialists and dispatchers, has participated in several local events.

Community policing is a key component of Atrium’s Department of Public Safety, he said. By being active in the community, it removes some of the stereotypes associated with law enforcement. It shows the officers are human beings and relieves some of the tension created by the badge, he said.

“Not all police action is bad,” said Pearson, who lives in Wilmington with his wife, Sarah.

Being a police officer is “a calling” and the goal is to “protect and help people,” he said.

That was evident during an emergency call when campus police were alerted that a man was “very aggressively” punching a car in the hospital parking lot. After “de-escalating” the situation, the officers learned the man had just been told his brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Pearson said.

“We let his frustration and pain come out,” he said.

The police then escorted the man back to his brother’s hospital room, Pearson said.

These type of calls sometimes can be diffused before they escalate because hospital officers are located on-site and can respond quicker than the Middletown Division of Police, according to Pearson. The hospital can be “Johnny on the spot” when seconds matter because of the potential volatility of the situation, he said.

About the Author