Shephard stops short of calling public inquiry in wake of Fredericton teen's death

·5 min read
Shephard stops short of calling public inquiry in wake of Fredericton teen's death
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard repeated her contention that the mental health system in New Brunswick is broken. (Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick - image credit)
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard repeated her contention that the mental health system in New Brunswick is broken. (Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick - image credit)

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says she will ask for a review of services for mental health crisis care in the province, telling reporters Wednesday she stands behind her pledge to "fix this broken system."

At a news conference, Shephard directly addressed the suicide of Fredericton teen Lexi Daken last week.

Lexi, a Grade 10 student who had previously attempted suicide, was taken to the emergency room at Fredericton's Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital on Feb. 18, by a school guidance counsellor who was concerned about her mental health.

She waited for eight hours without receiving any mental health intervention.

Lexi took her own life less than a week later, and her parents have spoken publicly about her experience trying to get help.

But it's not clear whether the public will ever know what happened during Lexi's eight-hour wait at the ER, or why she was allowed to leave without having received help.

Although Shephard was asked several times whether she would call a public inquiry into the handling of suicidal youth in provincial emergency rooms, as has been urged by Green Party Leader David Coon and supported by Lexi's father, Chris Daken, she said a review is the preferred route.

Shephard said she has met with New Brunswick's child and youth advocate, Norm Bossé, "to talk about a review of services for mental health crisis care."

"We have the child and youth advocate and he has a legislative mandate to do this," she said.

Bossé's independent review would likely be made public in a report, but would not entail calling witnesses to publicly testify, as an inquiry would.

Details of Horizon's internal review, announced last week by community vice-president Jean Daigle and intended to "determine where improvements could have been made," will also not be made public.

The review will be shared with Lexi's family and with Horizon's board of directors, Shephard said.

Shephard also announced Wednesday that she has asked Horizon Health Network senior officials "to discuss how we can address crisis care in our ERs" and has directed them to report back to her by the end of the month.

She plans to do the same with Vitalité Health Network.

Review 'a first step,' Lexi's father says

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Lexi's father, Chris Daken, said he thinks a public inquiry is needed but that the review is "a good first step."

Daken said his wife, Shawna Betts, had contacted Bosse's office after Lexi's death to request a review, so he was happy to hear it publicly announced Wednesday.

But he said a public inquiry is still necessary.

"We need answers, and the public needs answers, too," he said. "I think the province needs to see some change and the only way we're going to get it is getting to the bottom of why this happened."

Daken said he will wait to see the results of the review they requested, noting "that will determine our next moves."

"We're not going to change anything overnight, we know that," he said. "So we're happy with that first step. We do not think it's going to be the last step, but it's a good first step."

Inquiry 'not the best approach,' former head of psychiatry says

The former director of psychiatry at the Chalmers hospital said he understands why people might think an inquiry is needed, but it won't yield the answers people are hoping for.

In an interview with Information Morning Fredericton, Dr. David Addleman said Lexi Daken's tragic experience is "a heartbreaking story."

'You wonder what happened, how did it happen? It's terribly upsetting."

However, Addleman said, an internal review would be much more likely to answer those questions.

"I understand that that will not satisfy the public," he said. "Everybody's heartbroken, upset, angry … people want answers and want something done right now. But that's not the atmosphere in which useful determinants of what happened can be arrived at."

The bottom line, he said, is that the most useful information results from reviews that are done internally, "where people feel they can express their thoughts and opinions openly without feeling … blame will be placed on them."

Dr. David Addleman, former head of psychiatry at Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital, said in an interview Wednesday morning that an internal review would be more constructive than an inquiry.
Dr. David Addleman, former head of psychiatry at Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital, said in an interview Wednesday morning that an internal review would be more constructive than an inquiry.(CBC News file photo)

Missed opportunity for 'bolder' action: Austin

In an interview Wednesday, People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he was disappointed Shephard had not made a "bolder statement" about helping the province's youth.

"I was hoping the minister would come out and say that no minor seeking help during a mental health crisis will be turned away without getting the professional care they need," Austin said.

Austin noted he has spoken with teachers and guidance counsellors who have told him it's "a roll of the dice" whether students will get the care they need when they are taken to emergency rooms in mental health distress.

"That's just unacceptable," he said.

Austin also said that while he was pleased the child and youth advocate will conduct an independent review of the province's mental health care services, he thinks an inquiry should have been called in the wake of Lexi's death.

"I think Mr. Bossé will do a thorough review and I commend that," he said.

"But I think he would have done that anyway, without being asked by the minister. I think a public inquiry is important here ... this is something that the public as a whole needs to have more details about, to see what the issues are."