New Brunswick minister orders review of mental health crisis care after teen suicide

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FREDERICTON — The New Brunswick government has ordered a review of mental health crisis care following the suicide of a teenager who waited eight hours at a hospital emergency room without being helped.

Health Minister Dorothy Shepard said Wednesday she has asked Norm Bosse, the province's child, youth and seniors' advocate, to conduct a review, although the terms have not been set.

Lexi Daken, 16, took her own life on Feb. 24, less than a week after seeking help at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton.

Her family has been public about the tragedy over the past week, asking why Lexi waited eight hours and was told she might have to stay another two hours if she wanted the nurse to call a psychiatrist after hours.

Instead, she left with a referral for help, but that never happened.

"I think some of the staff are not provided the training that they would require to work in an ER setting to deal with a mental health patient," Chris Daken, Lexi's father, said in an interview Wednesday.

He described his daughter as the kind of person that always had a smile on her face. "She was always laughing and joking around, giggling and tormenting her younger siblings. She would be hanging out with her sister Piper," he said.

"Up until Lexi's first suicide attempt in November, I knew she was kind of a little bit down, but I was never expecting a suicide attempt," he said.

Daken said now that he looks back, he can see signs of things that had changed in Lexi's behaviour over the last year. "I take part of the blame because as a parent, you should recognize that stuff. I thought it was just teenage stuff and not as severe as what it was," he said.

Shephard said the regional health authority has also been asked to identify possible improvements and report back to her by the end of the month.

Green Leader David Coon says urgent action is needed. He wants to see a public inquiry into the care Lexi received.

"Why are they triaged like that? Why aren't they immediately moved into a place where they can be assessed by a physician and then a psychiatrist? Why wasn't a psychiatrist called to assess her?" Coon asked in an interview Tuesday.

"New Brunswick has the highest suicide rate per capita in Canada. When you look at young people we know that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people after car crashes. That tells you something right there," he added.

Shephard wouldn't commit to a public inquiry Wednesday, saying the reviews will be able to get the answers needed.

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin echoed Coon's for a fuller inquiry.

“Kids who are in crisis, as Lexi Daken was, should never be made to feel as though they are a burden, or that nobody is available to help them," Austin said in a statement Wednesday.

"Government must do better to ensure minors who need help always have access to appropriate care and are never turned away. We cannot have a repeat of the tragedy that unfolded last week.” he added.

At the top of Chris Daken's Facebook page is a picture of his daughter and the words "Lexi's Legacy #mentalhealth."

"I'm hoping (the government) can see that something has to be done sooner rather than later," Daken said.

"We're basically hoping that her death doesn't go down in vain. We want her death to have some type of meaning, whether it's helping kids down the road, or helping teens understand there is help you can get. We don't want her to be forgotten."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Mar. 3, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press