Rachel Jones wonders how much longer she and her son would have waited in a Halifax emergency room if he hadn’t escaped and tried to kill himself.
Jones took her 24-year-old son to the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Center last month because he was depressed, manic and suicidal.
CBC News is not naming Jones’ son, but his mother is speaking on his behalf as he recovers.
When they arrived at the hospital, Jones said she told triage nurses that her son talked about killing himself by jumping off a building.
“I assumed it would be even [forward],” Jones said in an interview. “Show the doctor and then send it off to the psych team so he’s not sitting in the waiting room with people.”
That was not the case. They sat in the waiting room for more than seven hours, Jones said, before her son asked to go to the bathroom.
Once he was out of his mother’s sight, he found an unlocked door and eventually made it onto the roof.
Security found Jones’ son, handcuffed him and put him in an interrogation room where he was held for several hours.
He didn’t see a psychiatrist until about 18 hours after they first arrived at the hospital, Jones said.
“I don’t quite know why we had to wait so long … I could have lost my son and [so would have] his siblings and his father,” she said. “I don’t know how we would have recovered.”
Problem with the process
Jones, who has worked as a registered nurse since 1994, said she doesn’t blame the staff.
Her problem, she said, is with the process.
An emergency department physician assesses a patient experiencing a mental health crisis and then decides whether to see an emergency physician or a member of the psychiatric team, according to Nova Scotia Health.
Jones said doctors are so busy that a nurse or other medical health professional should be able to make referrals to the psychiatric team to help people access treatment more quickly.
“It’s bureaucratic and it’s harmful to the young people, old people, whoever, who have serious mental health challenges, and they start waiting all that time.”
Reduce waiting times
A lawyer at the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers agrees that doctors shouldn’t be the only ones who can assess people who come into hospitals with mental health issues.
“They don’t have to be in control of everything,” N Siritsky said. “This model of mental health is based on this outdated, doctor-driven pharmaceutical concept.”
Siritsky said allowing social workers who are already in hospitals to intervene as soon as a patient enters the hospital would ease the burden on doctors and reduce wait times.
“Getting a social worker in there who can do an initial assessment, contribute to some of the treatment plans in a way that can help the provider when the provider finally comes, and reduces the time the physician actually has to spend with the patient,” they said.
“The social worker can provide some of the counseling and the support and the resources not only to the individual, but potentially to the family members or friends who accompanied the person.”
Siritsky said changes like this need to be part of a larger shift in the delivery of mental health care in Nova Scotia to a collaborative and proactive approach to patient care.
The goal, Siritsky said, would be to prevent people struggling with mental health from ever having to go to the hospital in the first place.
A spokesperson for Nova Scotia Health said in an email that Mental Health and Addictions Urgent Care Services saw a 30 per cent increase in demand for services in 2020 and a 10 per cent increase in demand for non-urgent services.
Rachel Jones said she still does not understand why there was an unlocked door in the QEII emergency room.
“This was a major near miss and I wonder if it’s even been talked about there,” she said. “Are they looking at it? Are they reviewing it?”
Nova Scotia Health did not respond to questions about protocols surrounding unlocked doors at the hospital and whether they have made any changes since this incident.
Jones said she’s not sure what she’ll do if her son experiences another mental health crisis. She said the experience has traumatized her son and leaves her worried and angry.
“I’ll always have a fear that he’ll just feel like he’s a problem in society because of the way it was handled.”
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