Family demands answers after woman with bipolar disorder who wandered from Sask. hospital found dead

Karen Ireland was found dead in the town of Moosomin hours after she walked away from hospital. (Submitted by Ruth Desjarlais - image credit)
Karen Ireland was found dead in the town of Moosomin hours after she walked away from hospital. (Submitted by Ruth Desjarlais - image credit)

The family of a woman with bipolar disorder who wandered away from a Saskatchewan hospital and was later found dead wants to know how she was able to leave the facility without staff intervening.

Karen Ireland, 50, "was just forever caring for other people," said her younger sister, Ruth Desjarlais.

Ireland needed to be cared for as well: She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder more than two decades ago, and was frequently in and out of hospitals, her sister told CBC News.

On Tuesday night, Ireland was in distress and admitted to the Southeast Integrated Care Centre in Moosomin, Sask., a small town about 210 kilometres east of Regina, her sister says.

At about 7:45 a.m. the next day, RCMP received a report that Ireland was missing.

"She may at times appear confused or agitated," the Mounties wrote in a news release Wednesday morning, adding she had last been seen wearing only a hospital gown, pyjama pants and no shoes.

Ireland's body was found later that afternoon less than a kilometre from the hospital, Desjarlais says.

The family doesn't know the cause of death, but the RCMP say foul play is not suspected.

Desjarlais says the hospital should have been familiar with Ireland's condition — she had been admitted to the hospital in Moosomin several times in the past — and taken precautions to make sure she wouldn't leave.

"She's a vulnerable person. Anybody who has any kind of experience with any kind of mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, you don't just let them wander off," Desjarlais said.

"You should be checking on the person that's wandering around the hospital confused."

Health authority initiates review  

Ireland's family said they thought they could count on the hospital to keep her safe. Instead, Desjarlais thinks the hospital neglected her.

"You can only do so much as a family and then you have to start relying on outside resources. And to my knowledge, that's what hospitals are for," Desjarlais said as she wept.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said it "extends its condolences to the family and loved ones affected by this very tragic event."

"The SHA is committed to providing physical, psychological, social, cultural, and environmental safety for everyone every day. As a result, a formal and comprehensive review of this case has been initiated," a health authority spokesperson wrote in a statement to CBC.

Changes needed

Desjarlais hopes changes will be made at health-care facilities — including better training and security — to ensure what happened to Ireland is never repeated.

Submitted by Ruth Desjarlais
Submitted by Ruth Desjarlais

Ireland was the middle child of seven siblings and is survived by a son and two grandchildren.

"Karen would look after us younger siblings," Desjarlais said. "She was our role model. She was a bit of a prankster. She liked to play tricks and she had a very kind heart."

Her family is feeling a mountain of emotions including sorrow, sadness and anger, Desjarlais said.

The family is preparing for her funeral and has started a GoFundMe page to help pay for funeral costs.