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Missing women from hospital raise questions

Nicole Veerman
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Questions have been raised by a Yellowknife MLA relating to the safety of patients residing in the psychiatric ward at the Stanton Territorial Hospital after an involuntary patient wandered off twice in two weeks.

A 44-year-old female patient in the mental health unit left the hospital without permission around 3 p.m. on Feb. 16. She was found by RCMP the next afternoon at a person's home in downtown Yellowknife.

The woman was also reported missing the evening of Feb. 3. In that case, she was also found the following day.

She isn't the only patient to go missing in the last few months.

Angela Meyer, 21, was on a weekend pass from the hospital, where she was receiving treatment for a mental illness, at the end of November when she wandered away from her home. She is still missing.

Following these incidents, Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley questioned the hospital's system in the legislative assembly.

"Twice since the fall we've had two major ground searches in Yellowknife looking for people on release from the Stanton mental health unit and missing in the community," he said Feb. 9.

"I realize the judgments for release are difficult and complicated and there can be no certainty in every case, but since we've seen two cases in less than five months of massive community searches - one still underway - has there been an examination of the wisdom of the practices for release currently being used?"

In response, Health Minister Sandy Lee said she thinks incidents such as these are reviewed by the hospital and health authority.

When asked whether the hospital is taking steps to address these incidents, Kathie Pender, the hospital's acting chief executive officer on Friday, said the hospital is always re-evaluating its system to ensure the safety of its patients.

She wouldn't speak to the specific cases, but did say that involuntary patients are monitored.

This is done with a patient care plan that is assessed and reassessed over time, she said.

"It's a step-by-step process," she said. "It's determined by the psychiatrist what the first step is."

Pender said it's a graduated process that is specific to each patient, adding that passes are a part of a patient's care plan.

In the beginning, patients aren't usually allowed to leave the hospital alone, but as their condition improves, they may be allowed to go out on a cigarette break without supervision, she said.

From there, passes may be increased to a day pass or even an overnight pass.

Pender said the goal of the care plan is to reintroduce patients into the community.

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