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Police Called Eight Days After Disappearance

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Adapted from The Edmonton Journal
December 9, 1999 (Column B03)

Private group home had no firm policies on missing clients.

Group home owner, Rohana Weerasekera, a nurse at Alberta Hospital, failed to call police until eight cold winter days passed after Bob Earle disappeared from his psychiatric group home. It was eight cold days before the police were called, a fatality inquiry heard Wednesday.

Care-Canada Ltd was licensed by the province to operate the private, for-profit home, but it had no firm policies on what to do when a client went missing.

By the time police were called so much time had passed they didn’t bother searching for Earle, 38. They were told he left without his medication for bipolar disorder also known an manic depression and that he had a history of lengthy absences, said Const. Kevin McCloskey. “My thinking at the time was, after eight days, if any harm had come to him it had already happened.”

Earle’s frozen body was found more than three months later, in some bushes about 25 blocks from the Mill Woods home. The medical examiner said he died of exposure.

The supervisor, Marisela Henriquez, said Earle was acting normally when he went out the morning of Dec 15, 1998, and never returned.

The next day she called her boss, Rohana Weerasekera, and Earle’s social worker.

Henriquez said she also tried to reach Earle’s sister; but her phone was not in service. It didn’t occur to her to call police, she told provincial court Judge David McNab.” She said she was paid $700 a month to live in the home and provide some care for the six residents, all of whom were mentally ill.

Henriquez said she might have been given a policy manual when she was hired but didn’t have time to read it.

She understood her job was to cook and clean for the clients, keep in touch with their social workers and ensure they took their medication, but she had no control over them.

Weerasekera, who’s also a registered psychiatric nurse at Alberta Hospital, said he opened three group homes in 1997 when the provincial government began shifting mental-health patients from institutions into cheaper, community-based care.

Group homes like Care-Canada’s have to be licensed under the adult social-care Facilities act, the local licensing supervisor testified. But the Act has no regulations that specify what standards the homes should meet.

At A Glance

What’s happening? The province is holding a fatality inquiry into the death of Robert “Bob” Earle, 38 who was found dead of exposure more than three months after he walked away from his group home. Earle suffered from bipolar disorder, or manic depression.

What are the issues?

  • The private, for-profit group home waited eight days to report his disappearance to police.
  • The provincial act that licenses such facilities doesn’t specify what standards or policies they should follow

What does his family say? “I was very relieved to have it at least brought out to the front,” said sister Denise Carlson, of Quesnel, BC. “Before, it was kind of pushed under the carpet.”