Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad
Patient was improving - doctor

Stanton trial ends, judge reserves decision

Kevin Wilson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 19/01) - A doctor at the centre of a wrongful death suit says his patient appeared to be improving when he was allowed to leave hospital on a day pass.

As the lawsuit against a former Yellowknife doctor and Stanton Regional Health Board wound down this week, Dr. Seamus "James" McGlynn offered testimony in territorial Supreme Court Monday.

Walter Holan's widow, Ewa Konopek-Holan is suing McGlynn, Stanton Regional Health Board, nurse Bertha Harman, and an Edmonton psychiatrist, arguing they were negligent in their care of her husband. Holan is believed to have committed suicide on an island in Frame Lake after being released on a day pass on Dec. 5, 1996. His body was not found until 1998. It is the first time Stanton has had to go to court for a civil trial.

McGlynn told court that he first began treating Holan sometime in 1994 or 1995 for an valium addiction. In the weeks before Holan died, McGlynn said he was hospitalized with his "first incident" of severe depression.

The admitting doctor also detected "valium withdrawal symptoms."

Phenobarbitol, another anti-anxiety medication was prescribed, along with Zoloft, an anti-depressant.

Holan spent a week in hospital before he was released and re-admitted two days later.

Under questioning from defence lawyer Jon Rossall, McGlynn said day passes for psychiatric patients were issued at the discretion of the attending physician, in consultation with ward nurses.

Holan was allowed out on Nov. 27 "unaccompanied for three or four hours," according to McGlynn.

"When he returned to hospital, he was quite agitated and upset at something that had happened at home," the doctor said.

After that, Holan's medications were adjusted over the next week, and he appeared to improve on Dec. 5, when he asked for a day pass to watch his son play hockey. Holan never returned to the hospital. Autopsy results revealed he had committed suicide by overdosing on over-the-counter sleep aids.

Bob Kasting, the lawyer for Holan's widow suggested that McGlynn didn't follow hospital policy.

"Would it not be common sense for a patient showing suicidal tendencies to only get a pass," when accompanied by a responsible adult, asked Kasting.

McGlynn said that day passes are issued, "depending on the demeanour of the patient, after discussion," between the primary doctor and the patient's nurse.

In his closing submission Tuesday, Kasting said the "crux" of his argument was that Holan should have only been allowed out on passes with a responsible adult. Rossall disputed this assertion, saying "everything that could have reasonably been done to protect the patient...was done." Justice John Vertes reserved judgment, saying he will issue a ruling "in due course."