The one thing the Nova Scotia Health Authority excels at is making comforting sounds. And why not, they have a public relations army in their employ. It’s ironic because their response to any query is to throw up the patient privacy wall as a reason not to respond. If only the NSHA hired as many doctors as they do communications people.
The NSHA’s latest meaningless, comforting sounds were delivered to the widow and family of Jackie Deveau. Deveau was long-time military veteran who had been a patient at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. On March 11, 2017 he walked away from the hospital and was killed in by a hit-and-run driver.
His widow received a letter which said a review was conducted and that one of the recommendations was to establish a clear communication protocol for serious events in an in-patient setting, including who should be notified, how the notification should happen and an expected timeline of communication.
The story is here:
The NSHA communication sounds reasonable if you don’t think about it. But why is a review needed? Why isn’t there already a clear communication protocol? It’s not brain surgery. They already have that information. No one is a patient of a hospital or long-term care facility or even a walk-in patient for blood work or other medical test, without staff confirming next-of-kin and their phone number. Why not use what you already have? Why don’t hospital staff attempt to stop a patient who is suffering from a mental incapacity or pressure from leaving a hospital?
Why do we have to establish another protocol? This is just a buying time to ride out bad headlines.
Do we have to conduct a study at every hospital and clinic for every incident? We have a unified health care system to deliver standardized levels of and access to care as well as uniform procedures. Not to apply them is yet another example of the poor management at the NSHA.
Mr. Deveau was not the first patient to wander away from a hospital. It’s been a long-standing problem at the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth and other facilities.
In June 3, 2015 a mental health patient at Valley Regional Hospital walked away without his family’s knowledge. He walked 15 kilometres in socks.
A hospital representative blamed the incident on an ER doctor, then hid behind patient confidentiality to avoid answering hard questions about how mentally compromised patients can wander off. In March 2010 I saw a man wearing a johnny shirt tucked into his underwear walk away from Valley Regional. Hospital staff stood in the main doorway laughing and making fun of him. No one attempted to stop him or call next of kin. Another time I informed hospital staff about a young man I found standing outside an aunt’s hospital room. He was a mental health patient and his presence near an frail, elderly woman later at night concerned me.
Later, the balcony level at VRH was enclosed by glass. I was told that was because one of the mental health unit patients threw himself over the railings. Enclosing the balcony was to discourage others from attempting it.
In January 2015 a potentially dangerous man drove away from the East Coast Forensic Hospital. After his “escape” a hospital rep said, ““We review every incident with regards to what led up to that and if we need to make changes or adjustments to how we practice, then we would do that arising from the reviews,”
Inspite of their review another patient left the Forensic hospital in June 2017 and ended up in Charlottetown where he flashed two young girls.
This article itemizes five examples of patients walking away from the Forensics hospital. One walk-away resulted in the murder of gay rights activist Raymond Taavel.
These are the incidents we know about. How many others have there been and have been swept under the privacy carpet to spare the system from lawsuits and preserve underserved reputations of managers?
Both Janet Knox and Lynn Harrigan should have developed a plan for such incidents by now. They were in charge of the Annapolis Valley District Health Authority, when several of these incidents took place. It’s not like they’re unaccustomed to patients wandering off. They have had decades to form a protocol that could have been implemented across the system before the merger of the health authorities and certainly in the years since. Their failure to do suggests either disinterest or laziness. So lacking action, the NSHA once again makes comforting sounds to wait out the public attention span.