Psychiatrist says Hillary Hooper was doing better in days before her suicide in hospital

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)

Hillary Hooper's attending psychiatrist said she had been doing better in the days leading up to her final suicide attempt.

In fact, Dr. Alan Fostey said he was preparing to discharge the 27-year-old Charlotte County woman from the secure psychiatric unit of the Saint John Regional Hospital in the coming days.

On Day 2 of a coroner's inquest into Hooper's death, Fostey said he believed that her condition had stabilized and that she was ready to go home.

He said she had also expressed willingness to continue treatment in the community.

Although several medical witnesses have testified Hooper was due to be released the next day, Fostey said he hadn't made that call — and that the decision rested exclusively with him.

Hooper had been admitted to 4D North, the hospital's psychiatric wing, on Nov. 13, 2020, after attempting to take her own life. Hooper, the inquest, has heard, had been experiencing mental health issues for a long time

She spent 19 days in 4D North, and Fostey said he had been tweaking her medications. He said Hooper was funny, and he enjoyed their sessions together.

Submitted by Patty Borthwick
Submitted by Patty Borthwick

"She was a wonderful patient. I really liked her," he said Tuesday afternoon via a video link to the courtroom.

Hooper hanged herself on Dec. 2, 2020, in the bathroom of her room in 4D North. She spent a week on life-support, before her family made the decision to remove her.

Pathologist Dr. Marek Godlewski testified Tuesday that a lack of oxygen had resulted in changes to Hooper's brain that were incompatible for life.

After two days of testimony, the five-member inquest panel has heard from 15 witnesses, including the nurse who found Hooper during routine rounds on Dec. 2, 2020.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

Registered nurse Karen Wood said she initially checked Hooper's room during the 11 p.m. rounds and couldn't see her through the window in the door. Nor could she open the door because of something blocking it. She later determined that a hospital bed had been dragged in front of the door.

Unable to get in at that time, Wood said she continued with her rounds — estimating this took her between 30 and 60 seconds — before asking another nurse for assistance.

The pair managed to open the door at about 11:05, and although the room was dark, light was visible from the bathroom.

Wood said they were initially unable to open the bathroom door. She said she looked up, discovered a bedsheet knotted on their side of the door and realized what had happened.

The two nurses finally managed to open the door and get Hooper down. Wood said Hooper initially had a really strong pulse. She said Hooper's pulse was "working more than normal."

They put her on her side in the "recovery position," but soon discovered her pulse had weakened and her eyes were completely dilated. While the other nurse started CPR, Wood asked a third nurse to call a "code blue."

Submitted by Patty Borthwick
Submitted by Patty Borthwick

A team from 4C North, internal medicine, arrived at 11:15 p.m. and took over resuscitation efforts.

Renée Fournier, a director at the Horizon Health Network, told the inquest on Tuesday that a group of health officials met after Hooper's death and discussed changes that could be made to prevent a similar death.

She said the recommendations were vetted by a series of committees and then senior officials with the health network.

Fournier said one of the recommendations that made it all the way through the approval process has already been implemented.

The tops of the doors inside the unit have been cut to "mitigate the risk" of a similar incident.

The second recommendation, she said, was to create a "short-stay unit" that could be used as a stabilization location for those with issues similar to Hooper's.

Fournier said Horizon is still trying to find a space for the unit in Saint John. She said there's a "well-established" unit already in place in Fredericton at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital.

The inquest is expected to hear from one final witness on Wednesday before the five-member jury will be asked to come up with recommendations that could prevent a similar death.


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