The IWK’s murky damage control

On Thursday, in reaction to the bad media generated by action of hospital staff towards the treatment of Rehtaeh Parsons, the CEO of the IWK Children’s Hospital, Anne McGuire, engaged in what in public relations circles is known as “damage control”. The object is to say something that sounds like you’re addressing the issue and hope it dilutes the outrage, while not admitting guilt, wrong doing or failure.

McGuire’s defense of her institution almost made sense if you didn’t think about it, but her words raise even more questions and concerns. You can read the article here:

McGuire says in-patients at the IWK’s mental health unit are not “strip searched,” but said female patients might have their clothes removed by male staffers in extreme circumstances.

How is having your clothes removed by others not a strip search? And if this 16-year-old girl was as mentally distressed as the IWK believes she was, why would they ever consider it acceptable and not detrimental to her state of mind to have to be naked in front of other men? And did they physically touch Parsons to remove her clothes or merely intimidate her into the further humiliation of disrobing in front of them?

The danger to Parsons, according to McGuire, was if they needed to remove a ligature which “would require a full unit response to ensure immediate care is provided. These types of situations are extremely rare due to our precautionary actions to provide a safe environment. However, in these circumstances, the gender of the care provider is of less relevance than the consequences of not acting quickly.”

It all sounds comforting, except that what McGuire is talking about is the threat to the individual by the individual. In other words, the patient hanging themselves. However, for the patient to hang herself she would have to be left alone. It’s simple enough to have staff stay with a fully-clothed patient until staff of the same sex arrive to oversee the next step of helping the distressed person – in this case a 16-year-old rape victim – out of her clothes. That doesn’t seem an overly complicated option.

Or, like everything else in health care, are we talking dollars?

Shouldn’t the IWK have anticipated that, having being raped by four men, being disrobed by two more men in an institutional setting where she was not free to come and go of her own free will, might deepen her despair and be the final act to push her over the edge?

McGuire told the newspaper that because of confidentially she could not speak about Parson’s treatment, yet she does. She can conveniently break confidentially just enough to clear her institution of their failing.

I understand how some Nova Scotians want to give the IWK the benefit of the doubt, but let’s not forget that there is a growing history of adverse treatment of the young and vulnerable in this province, region and country. We have had young men sexually abused by priests. We have had native children abused in residential schools. We have recently learned of the abuse which took place in the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children. Before that were abuse charges at the Shelburne School for Boys.

Over and over again institutions we respected and trusted have been shown to fail those we entrusted to them. Why is it so hard to consider that another institution would follow the well-trod path to not always providing the best care for those in need?

This time we have heard what happened to this one young woman, but what makes us think she is unique, that there have been no others treated as potentially miserably? How many times have patients at the IWK and other hospitals in Nova Scotia been forced – or required – to strip in front of staff?  What is different with this case is that this girl had parents who aren’t afraid to speak up and that, just as social media drove her to her death, social media can now be employed to bring these kinds of failings to light so that we can have real change for the good of all patients.

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1 Response to The IWK’s murky damage control

  1. mary says:

    I am beginning to think you have to carry a cell phone with video even to a meeting in these institutions. Look at the recent case of elder abuse in Ontario. No one believed what the son suspected so he mounted a video camera in her room and saw continual abuse of his Mom. The sad part is he must have had to watch that. 😦

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