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Abuse of the mentally ill

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Proposed Amendment to the Alberta Mental Health Act

Presented to the Government Standing Committee on Community Services
by the Elder Advocates of Alberta Society

October 1, 2007

Bill 31 (Proposed amendment to the Alberta Mental Health Act)

“Physicians have a powerful quasi-judicial position in society in that they can detain lawful citizens behind locked doors and remove all property and human rights”.

Let me tell you about Anne.

Anne became part of our extended family through marriage. After some years it became obvious that Anne suffered from serious mental illness. She often told me how difficult it was for her to take the pills prescribed for her. Through Anne, I came to understand how difficult the life of a person who suffers from mental illness is.

Ruth I can’t take those pills, they hurt my stomach, they make my head ache, they make me dizzy, constipate me, make my bones ache, give me a rash, make my ears ring, make my mouth so dry I have no saliva and on and on. Depending on the medication, the adverse reactions differed. Sometims she took the medications, oftentimes not.

The police arrested her a number of times perhaps for being unruly or noisy on the street. I visited her at the Remand center, she was humiliated. It was awful. She didn’t belong there. She was a good person.

Many times she was committed to Alberta Hospital and detained behind heavy, locked doors. The hospital Social Worker withheld her comfort money which meant she could not buy ‘smokes’ which was torture for her. But she knew her rights and always managed to get herself released.

She told me of “intimidation by injection”, which translated means that if you are not cooperative or refuse to take your medication, staff, perhaps 6 or more staff on the instructions of the psychiatrist, will hold you down and “put a needle in your a__” . As a result you may suffer a terrible headache for some days, or if the drug is zuclopenthixol acetate, you may spend three days in a drugged state in a room with nothing but a canvas sheet.*

Her husband divorced her, family abandoned her, I continued to visit. She had an apartment but ultimately became somewhat of a street person, a social out cast.

Nobody understood her pain, they had judgement and abusive treatment for her.

She died at Alberta Hospital with cigarette burns on her chest and abdomen.. Throughout her life, her rights were violated by those who were mandated to help her. That was 1993. Nothing has changed.

Frail, elderly seniors, who do not meet the criteria of being a threat to themselves, or a threat to others, are being committed to Alberta Hospital in breach of the Mental Health Act

One such senior whom we visited on September 7th, 2007 was restrained and hanging forward out of his chair in a most inhumane manner.

During the two hours that we were there, he could not be roused. He appeared totally sedated. Periodically, his entire body would jerk. He could not have eaten anything in this condition.

We took a photograph, of fingernail pick marks and abrasions on his right arm, which has been submitted to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Why is this old man at Alberta Hospital? He’s not a mental patient.

He’s an old man who needs and deserves compassionate care. His family are trying to remove him from Alberta Hospital but are finding it virtually impossible to do so. This frail, wheel chair bound man is behind locked doors, mental health certificates legally detain him there.

Similarly, on a Sunday evening at about 7:30 PM, we noted a whole row of old men sitting in short blue nightgowns in the day room of 12 1A, Alberta Hospital. It was cold and they appeared cold, uncomfortable and over exposed, physically and chemically restrained.

Often persons detained under the Mental Health Act are relegated to group homes where there is little or no supervision and the supervision that exists is by untrained persons who have a poor command of the English language. Patients languish because there are no activities except a television that may or may not function well. Some have been known to wander away, perhaps escape, die of exposure, freeze to death.

This year, a person burned to death In a Capilano group home. The fire was originally spotted by joggers passing the house. What kind of fire safety was there within the home? To date there has been no Fatality Inquiry, no accountability.

Mentally ill persons are sometimes restrained, pepper sprayed by police who have no training or understanding of the persons whom they are apprehending. And when these persons cry out for help they are disregarded such as Mr. Harrold of Lamont who took his life when he was turned away from an emergency ward.

Last week, we visited a group home, a house with plastic flowers on the deck where residents have to go down the hall for toilet and shower. A resident is being charged $2,600.00 a month for an 8′ x10′ 4″ poorly lit room, where she has to have lights on during the day. The Public Guardian, the Public Trustee, the psychiatrist, the Chairman of the Review Panel are aware of this abusive situation but she is helpless and perhaps fearful to complain because she has been stripped of all rights under the Mental Health Act and the Dependant Adults Act.

We the Elder Advocates of Alberta Society, are an anomaly across the province and across the country in that we not only speak out for justice and the rights of seniors and vulnerable persons, but we maintain an office and accept and investigate complaints. It is labour intensive work.

In our long experience, we have documented a litany of untrustworthy, unprofessional assessments and declarations of incompetency. No one has been held accountable.

With a few strokes of a pen, professionals can strip a citizen of all rights, deny them the right to their bank accounts, their homes and belongings.

Similarly professionals can medicate, humiliate, detain behind locked doors. There is no viable appeal, in most instances the Protection For Persons in Care Act does not apply, the College of Physicians and Surgeons does not listen. There is no accountability.

We have documented instances where no testing, assessment or even interview was carried out prior to filling out a declaration of incompetency or mental health certificate. We have documented where no certificate existed when Alberta citizens were detained at Alberta Hospital behind locked doors and then were pressured or deceived into signing the yellow Voluntary Admission Form thereby making them a voluntary patient.

The current standards required for a physician in the performance of his assessment are not well defined. Often the 2nd signature on a certificate is a rubber stamp of the 1st signature.

Within the existing legislation, no action lies against those who issue flawed, untruthful declarations.

The present legislation, gives professionals incredible power over lawful citizens and is a blatant violation of constitutional and charter rights. Professionals are not held accountable by any court or authority.

Because of these troubling irregularities, on August of this year we have made a formal request to the Minister of Justice to convene an Inquiry into this entire process of how Alberta citizens are being declared incompetent and how their rights and assets removed.

Finally, mentally ill persons are persons.

To the committee:

We urge you to not grant anyone any more power over vulnerable persons;

  1. because the track record of professionals and others has not been good. We must remember it was physicians and psychiatrists who facilitated and carried out the Sterilization Act here in Alberta.
  2. until a province wide inquiry has been held to examine the standards and protocol that exist in the issuance of professional certificates, declarations of incompetency
  3. until those who would be the enforcers, have received education and relevant training in this regard such as Policemen, social workers, etc.
  4. until a protocol of accountability has been established

*April 11, 2002 at Alberta Hospital Edmonton. an ex-lawyer who strongly criticized the Law Society was ordered by the court to Alberta Hospital for an assessment.

While at Alberta hospital, staff ordered the man to strip down to his underwear and 10 staff held him down on a mattress and the 72 hour drug zuclopenthixol acetate was injected into his buttocks. The psychiatrist who ordered this is the Head of the Forensic unit.

The man’s wife who visited well over 24 hours later described her husband as a walking “Zombie, slurred speech, impaired motor movements, could not keep his eyes open during the visit”. She said they humiliated him by stripping him of his clothes. She also noted that there was no appeal protocol to lodge complaints concerning the treatment/mistreatment.

October 15, 2007 @ 2:00PM, Queens Bench, Surrogate Court there will be a hearing in regard to a senior, Flora L’Heureux, who is fighting to regain her rights. We have affidavit evidence that the physican who filled out the declaration of incompetency, the Form1 which will damn her, deny her all rights, access to her bank account, did no assessment or even interview her. We urge you to attend.