Vitalité turns over recommendations stemming from patient's death, following appeal

The suicide of a patient at the Restigouche Hospital Centre last winter prompted a recommendation for staff to make sure they're completing hourly checks on patients and verifying the patient's condition during those rounds.

Vitalité Health Network's internal investigation into the February 2019 death of 38-year-old Martin Michaud also resulted in a recommendation to continue recruiting staff at the psychiatric hospital, so it can ensure an adequate ratio of personnel. 

But the health network says it doesn't have any other records about its own investigation, other than the text of those two recommendations, according to a review by the Ombud's office.

Michaud died on the morning of Feb. 9, 2019, just two days after Ombud Charles Murray released a scathing report that warned of mistreatment and inadequate care of patients at the Restigouche Hospital Centre, stemming from chronic understaffing. Vitalité has maintained that the hospital is safe for patients.

Radio-Canada

Members of Michaud's family have expressed concern about a three-hour gap between when someone last checked on Michaud and when his body was discovered, a gap they learned about after reading a coroner's report.

In September, Vitalité CEO Gilles Lanteigne said the health authority made changes at the hospital following Michaud's death, including revising its system to ensure routine checks are done. He said staff would have to confirm they've seen the patient breathing, write down the time of the check and have their rounds validated by a supervisor.

But nearly one year after losing his son, Roland Michaud feels frustrated. He expected to have more information about his son's death.

"My big frustration is after almost one year, we never had a letter or a phone call from the hospital or from Vitalité for condolences or something like that," Michaud said in an interview with Radio-Canada.

"I don't think it's right from them." 

No records

For months, CBC News has been trying to obtain records about Michaud's death and the internal Vitalité Health Network investigation that followed, using the province's access to information system.

But the health authority initially refused to turn over any records about Michaud's death, saying that releasing "information concerning the circumstances of the incident would significantly facilitate identifying the individual."

CBC News appealed that right to information response.

Following a review by the Ombud's office, Vitalité turned over an incident report and the text of the two recommendations that were made.

Radio-Canada

But the health authority says those recommendations are the only documented information it has about that internal investigation, according to the Ombud's office. CBC News is continuing its appeal of Vitalité's response.

'Nothing but secrecy'

Green Party Leader David Coon would like to see a public coroner's inquest into Michaud's death, similar to one that was called after the 2012 death of Serena Perry, who was a patient at the Saint John Regional Hospital.

He would also like to see an independent process for dealing with complaints about care in hospital settings.

"Every time a New Brunswicker dies in jail, dies in a hospital, dies in a government institution or a government-funded institution like that, they are in the public care and the public ultimately has the right to know what went on, why it happened and how are we going to make sure it doesn't happen again," Coon said.

"And without that, if all we've got are recommendations, there's no way for us to evaluate whether those recommendations are actually going to avoid a similar problem from occurring again."

Vitalité Health Network

Both People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin and Liberal health critic Jean-Claude D'Amours also called for more transparency from Vitalité.

"They need to be transparent to the public and even more, they need to be transparent to the family in question," D'Amours said.

'Despair and lost hope'

Michaud's family described him as an avid reader who was curious about the world around him, but struggled with social phobia. They hoped he would find help at the Restigouche Hospital Centre.

"It was their job to take care of him and unfortunately the care failed," Marie-Hélène Michaud, Martin's sister, said in an interview last summer.

"He just felt despair and lost hope."

Vitalité declined an interview request for this story.

"We will not comment on this file," Vitalité spokesperson Thomas Lizotte wrote in an email.