The parents of Lexi Daken say they are planning their next steps after Horizon Health Network refused to hand over their deceased daughter's health records, citing privacy reasons.
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 and left the hospital after she was told by a nurse that calling a psychiatrist would take another two hours.
Less than a week later, Lexi died by suicide.
On Tuesday, Lexi's mother, Shawna Betts, went to the hospital to get Lexi's health records so that she could complete insurance forms.
But after waiting about an hour and a half and meeting with three different hospital managers, Betts said she was eventually told they could not give her Lexi's health records because Lexi was over 16.
"They said it was because of the Privacy Act, and that their hands were tied."
Betts said she was shocked.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I said, 'So I can't get my own kid's file? Is that what you're telling me?' "
Eventually, she said, hospital managers took a copy of her insurance form and said they would complete it for her.
"So I didn't even get the name of the doctor [who was on call] the night of Lexi's visit."
At this point, Betts said, she was "escorted to the door" by hospital staff, without the health records she'd come for and without getting the information she needed to complete her insurance form.
Coming after weeks of an ordeal that has seemed endless, Betts said, "that was too much."
"That upset me. I told them 'This isn't over. I might be leaving here without my daughter's records, but I am going to get them.' "
Asked for comment on Wednesday, Horizon Health Network did not address specifics of Betts's visit or its reasons for declining her request for Lexi's records.
In general, Horizon's chief privacy officer Kelly Chase said, "the release of health records is determined in accordance with our established policies and procedures, and in accordance with the provisions of the Personal Health Information Privacy and Access Act."
Review will help, but public inquiry also needed, mom says
Betts said she has asked the province's Child, Youth and Seniors Advocate to obtain the health records as part of his review of mental health crisis services, announced last week in the wake of Lexi's suicide.
She has also spoken with her lawyer launching a civil suit against Horizon, which would oblige it to hand over the records.
But ultimately, Betts said, an inquiry, which would call witnesses to testify publicly about what happened that night at the emergency room, is needed.
"I know [Child, Youth and Seniors Advocate] Norm Bossé wants to do his review, and that is really important," Betts said.
"We want change. But we also want people to know why we want change. We want transparency, accountability — and we want people to know that that wasn't just a bad night for the hospital."
Horizon legally justified in denying access: law prof
While being denied access to their daughter's health records is another painful sting for the family, the health authority is legally justified in denying that access, according to University of New Brunswick associate law professor Hilary Young.
Young said the Personal Health Information Privacy and Access Act requires consent to disclose personal health information, including health records — even if the person has died.
"There is no exception made for deceased persons, except after 50 years or for the purposes of notifying family members of the death," Young said.
Young conceded it's "a hard line to draw," noting that people often think parents should be allowed access to children's medical records, particularly when mental health or addictions are at issue.
"On the one hand, that makes sense," Young said. "But on the other hand, once I'm an adult, my parents should not be able to find out whether I've had an abortion, whether I have HIV, whether I'm depressed, and so forth."
Lexi's family could opt to sue the province, in which case the records might have to be disclosed as part of the litigation process, but otherwise, Young said, "the law is operating as it should."
"Lexi's health records are private and her parents are not entitled to breach her privacy, even after death."
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.