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Mother finally getting answers about daughter's death in psychiatric unit in Saint John

Hillary Hooper died by suicide at the Saint John Regional Hospital in December 2020 after numerous attempts to get help for depression.  (Submitted by Patty Borthwick - image credit)
Hillary Hooper died by suicide at the Saint John Regional Hospital in December 2020 after numerous attempts to get help for depression. (Submitted by Patty Borthwick - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

An inquest is underway in Saint John into the death of a 27-year-old woman, who took her own life in the secure psychiatric unit of the Saint John Regional Hospital in December 2020.

A panel of five people was selected Monday at the courthouse in Saint John to hear evidence that will be presented during the three-day inquest. Seven witnesses testified on Day 1 of the inquest.

Patty Borthwick is already starting to get some of the answers she's been seeking since her daughter Hillary Hooper walked into the emergency room at Saint John Regional Hospital for the last time on Nov. 13, 2020.

Triage nurse Deborah McNutt told the inquest Hooper had taken 50 pills — three different kinds and under prescription — just before she arrived. But Hooper was conscious and mobile, answered all her questions, and did not fall on the floor, as Borthwick had previously thought.

McNutt said she got a wheelchair and wheeled Hooper to "trauma," where another nurse took over.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

Earlier that day, a social worker with the Horizon Health Network, saw Hooper at the mental health clinic on Union Street in the city.

Tera Vellenoweth told the inquest Hooper was considered a "high priority" referral given her history. She was  referred to the clinic after a previous suicide attempt.

Vellenoweth said she was the assigned clinician in the case, and it was her job to help Hooper with her suicidal thoughts and her underlying condition, diagnosed as borderline personality disorder.

She said she asked Hooper where she was happiest. She said Hooper said it was taking care of chickens at a camp with her in-laws.

Submitted by Patty Borthwick
Submitted by Patty Borthwick

That appointment was on Nov. 13, 2020. According to an earlier interview with her mother, Hooper called her immediately after the appointment, sobbing. Hooper told her the counsellor said to go home, raise chickens and plant a garden.

Borthwick, who is at the inquest and asking questions through the prosecutor assisting it, has said the appointment made her daughter feel nobody cared whether she lived or died.

Later on Nov. 13, 2020, after taking the pills, Hooper was in the ER, where her physical condition stabilized. She was moved to 4D North, the hospital's secure psychiatric wing.

Borthwick thought her daughter would be safe there.

Nineteen days later, Hooper hanged herself in the bathroom of her room.

Borthwick declined to comment after the testimony Monday, saying she wanted to take some time to absorb what she had heard.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

The inquest also heard from the nurse who was in charge of Hooper on Dec. 2, 2020. That was the day she hanged herself, although she was on life support for another week.

Cynthia Moore said Hooper had become quite anxious about mid-morning. She said she met with Hooper in her room and spent about 45 minutes with her, talking through the issue.

Moore said Hooper was concerned about the sleeping pills she was taking and the experience with the mental health clinician she met with two weeks earlier. She said it wasn't a good experience and she had failed to connect with the woman.

Moore said she talked about some options with Hooper and by the time she left the room, she said Hooper was feeling much better.

"When I left the room, I felt good and she had changed her demeanour," Moore told the inquest.

She said she was surprised when she arrived at work the next morning and heard what had happened.

Submitted by Patty Borthwick
Submitted by Patty Borthwick

Sheryl Clark, a licensed practical nurse in the psychiatric unit, had several interactions with Hooper, including within days of Dec. 2, 2020.

She described the young woman as "very pleasant" and funny. She said Hooper liked to make other people laugh and swore a lot, which got a positive reaction from Hooper's family members in the courtroom, who laughed and acknowledged Hooper's proclivity for profanity.

Clark said she was surprised by Hooper's actions because she had appeared to be "doing so well" the last time she saw her and was due to be released soon.

"Very well," Clark said. "And I was actually really shocked when I found out."

IF YOU NEED HELP:

CHIMO hotline: 1-800-667-5005  / http://www.chimohelpline.ca

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566