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Villa Caritas- Implausible Testimony, Fatality Inquiry

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FATALITY INQUIRY – Arnold Harry Barstad – July 4, 2013 – Provincial Court

Edmonton, AB. – Judge E. Johnson presiding.

Chief Crown Prosecutor Steven Bilodeau QC


The Inquiry had to rely on the testimony of Villa Caritas staff.

Testimony was provided by

Dr. Candace Walker, psychiatrist(below)

Neil Maralit, psychiatric aide, employed by Covenant Health

Julia Richardson, RN

Scott Baerg, Vice President of Mental Health(below)

The Inquiry was informed by a Villa Caritas aide, that Mr. Barstad, Unit 1 A, Rm. # 1117, hung himself from a towel bar.

Towel bar was below waist level.

The ligature used was described a cloth belt from Mr. Barstad’s robe, about 5 feet long.

The Inquiry was informed by a Villa Caritas psychiatric aide, Neil Maralit, that he found Mr. Barstad, Unit 1 A, Rm. # 2117, hanging from a towel bar. He testified that he found Mr. Barstad lying face down, facing the door. There was a pillow and a cloth below him.

Hanging from the towel bar, tied to the towel bar by his bath robe belt.. The aide, Maralit told the Inquiry that he noted fresh blood coming through the man’s nose and mouth.

If the man was lying face down, how could Maralit have observed blood coming through the man’s nose and mouth?

The aide said that he called out loudly for the charge nurse, Julia Richardson, who arrived almost immediately. The nurse unknotted and removed the cloth belt from Mr. Barstad’s neck and laid his head on the pillow in front of him.

The towel bar was less than three feet from the floor.

If in fact Mr. Barstad had somehow managed to carry out a strangulation at this level and blood coming through the man’s nose and mouth, it is likely that the towel bar would have pulled loose from the gyprock wall.

If the strangulation had caused blood to emanate from mouth and nose, the knotted belt could not have been easily released.

Testimony at Inquiry –“He looked as if he went to sleep but fresh blood coming from nose and mouth”.

The matter of his alleged, abrupt onset of paranoia was not examined although the Inquiry was told by Dr. Candace Walker that Mr. Barstad was “smiling” and “brighter”.



1) Failure to call the testimony of the Medical Examiner’s Office and EMS personnel who identify decedents and circumstances surrounding the decease.

2) When this matter was first brought forward in 2011 by Mr. Brian Mason, it was said that an elderly man hung himself by hanging himself from a hook on the wall. *

3) It has been alleged to us by Past and present clients of Villa Caritas that the name on the door of Rm. # 1117 was in fact George Anderson, not Arnold Barstad.

In fact the name of George Anderson was on the door of
Rm. # 1117 some days after the alleged suicide.



Mason blamed the suicide on the province’s haste to close Alberta Hospital and move patients to the geriatric psychiatric facility, which had its official opening on Monday.

“The government was warned Villa Caritas was designed as a long-term care facility and lacked many essential features necessary to ensure the safety of psychiatric patients,” Mason said during question period Tuesday. “Now a patient is dead.”
The man hanged himself on a clothing hook,
Mason later told reporters.

Adapted Edmonton Journal – Jodie Sinnema


Global News: Villa Caritas officials were warned about potential dangers before patient suicide
Staff at Edmonton’s newest geriatric mental health facility were warned that certain items in Villa Caritas could help patients commit suicide, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says.

AUPE toured Villa Caritas on Jan. 10 to determine the building’s health and safety and detailed their concerns in a pre-occupancy hazard assessment.

Union officials say they warned Villa Caritas managers that patients could potentially kill themselves on coat hooks and closet rods, and that warning came about a month before an elderly man committed suicide at the facility by hanging himself from a hook on the wall.
“The hazards to the patients were hooks and closet bars that could assist a person in doing harm to themselves,” said Dennis Malayko, health and safety representative for the AUPE.

“I also raised concerns with what I recognized as potential hazards to our staff, including bars and toilet lids that could be removed and used as weapons.”

On Tuesday, NDP Leader Brian Mason brought information forward about the senior’s suicide to the public, just a day after the facility’s grand opening.
Villa Caritas was originally meant to be a long-term care facility for seniors.

Mason said the facility was not intended for pyschiatric patients and as such, is filled with “blind spots” — like the hook — that could aid in suicide and alleges that the province “hid” the suicide from the public and argued the premier should not have pressed ahead with the opening just weeks after the tragedy.
But Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said he has no concerns about the safety of Villa Caritas.

Covenant Health spokeswoman Rayne Kuntz confirmed on Tuesday that there was a death at the facility, but insisted Villa Caritas is safe and appropriate for high-needs psychiatric patients.
Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson could not immediately say whether the province has a policy detailing appropriate design for psychiatric facilities.

The construction of Villa Caritas has been surrounded by controversy.
Originally meant to be a long-term care facility for seniors, it was then announced that it would be the largest mental health facility in Alberta, then finally it was decided it would become a geriatric psychiatric facility.

The changes meant the province added millions into bringing the facility up to standards required for seniors with mental illness.
Villa Caritas is a 150-bed facility located at 16515 88 Ave.

Since 2006, at least 12 psychiatric patients in Alberta have committed suicide or been suspected of committing suicide at hospitals and psychiatric facilities. Four of those patients were in the care of Alberta Hospital.

Adapted Global News – Linda Hoag – March 9, 2011