Weekend suicide of mental patient at Montreal hospital adds to security concerns

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

A spate of deaths at Montreal hospitals involving patients with apparent mental problems is bringing security for psychiatric patients under further scrutiny.

On Sunday, a 50-year-old man jumped to his death from the ninth floor of Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, The Canadian Press reported.

The Montreal Gazette reported the man had been a patient at Louis-H Lafontaine Psychiatric Hospital and had been transferred to Maisonneuve for surgery. He climbed out of a window in the visitors' lounge.

Just nine months earlier, a 74-year-old patient jumped to his death at the same hospital, The Canadian Press reported.

The latest incident comes only a couple of weeks after the arrest of a 31-year-old psychiatric patient at Montreal's Notre Dame Hospital after he allegedly attempted to strangle an elderly woman patient.

Investigating the attack, police were told by staff of the deaths earlier in the week of two elderly men. They'd originally thought to have expired due to natural causes but autopsies later showed they'd been asphyxiated.

[Related: Montreal hospital in homicide case defends security]

Commenting on the incidents, the Montreal Gazette's Peggy Curran said hospitals are busy, often chaotic places. Patients can vanish, wander into the wrong room or unleash lethal rage.

She noted Maisonneuve reacted to the October 2011 jumping suicide by putting locks on the windows of patients' rooms, somehow forgetting the lounge windows.

Union officials blamed the attacks at Notre Dame Hospital on understaffing due to Quebec government budget cuts, a charge the hospital's director of psychiatry dismissed.

"This was a very strange, specific case which slipped through our fingers," said Paul Lesperance.

But freak incidents like an unsupervised psychotic left free to prowl hospital wards or an unstable patient put on a ward with an unsecured window don't absolve officials of responsibility to protect those in their care, Curran contended.

"As the Quebec coroner's office probes what happened at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Sunday, it must ask itself what must be done by and for doctors and nurses, hospital administrators and the people who assign the rooms in all our hospitals and clinics to minimize the risks, for everyone's sake," she wrote.