Is­lan­ders with nowhere to call their home

Men­tal health case in pro­vin­cial court points to gap in sys­tem

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

A20-year-old woman who has been liv­ing at the Hills­bor­ough Hos­pi­tal for three years says she is “that des­per­ate to get out” that she has taken to as­sault­ing the peo­ple car­ing for her there in hopes that her sit­u­a­tion will im­prove — in jail.

Whether this des­per­ate cry for help will work for her re­mains to be seen.

The woman is in cus­tody un­til her sen­tenc­ing Aug. 18. While there, she promised Judge John Dou­glas, she will be on her best be­hav­iour since the only rea­son she com­mit­ted her re­cent as­saults was to get in­car­cer­ated.

The case leaves the public won­der­ing if the Hills­bor­ough Hos­pi­tal is re­ally that bad or if this is an iso­lated case of a young woman who won’t fit in any­where.

Cer­tainly, pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment agen­cies can’t seem to agree on what’s best for the woman.

Twenty-two rep­re­sen­ta­tives from var­i­ous de­part­ments and agen­cies met ear­lier this month to dis­cuss her case.

Her pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer told the court that the meet­ing didn’t seem to ac­com­plish a whole lot.

It’s a very sad case for this par­tic­u­lar woman but it also points to a larger, sys­temic prob­lem the province needs to ad­dress.

This pa­tient is not the only per­son liv­ing at Hills­bor­ough Hos­pi­tal who doesn’t be­long there. It is hoped, though, most of them don’t see jail as a prefer­able al­ter­na­tive.

Mean­while, there are peo­ple who would ben­e­fit from the care pro­vided at Hills­bor­ough Hos­pi­tal who can’t get a bed. And judges ad­mit there are peo­ple who are sen­tenced to jail time when psy­chi­atric care is what is needed for them.

The same sit­u­a­tion is ex­pe­ri­enced at healthcare fa­cil­i­ties, jails and half­way homes across P.E.I. and across Canada. There are peo­ple in beds who don’t be­long there, and peo­ple who would ben­e­fit by be­ing there who can’t get in.

Men­tal health cases are unique and com­pli­cated and it is hard for gov­ern­ments to de­velop one-size-fits-all ap­proaches for ev­ery­one who can’t live alone. Yet it is vi­tal that we don’t in­sti­tu­tion­al­ize ev­ery per­son who doesn’t fit the mould.

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has made a num­ber of an­nounce­ments since its 2014 throne speech promis­ing bet­ter treat­ment for Is­lan­ders with men­tal health.

In Oc­to­ber, gov­ern­ment an­nounced that youth need­ing help with men­tal health and ad­dic­tions were get­ting some new re­sources. The Youth Re­cov­ery Cen­tre opened in Summerside in April, of­fer­ing 12 beds, class­rooms and treat­ment ar­eas for young peo­ple with ad­dic­tions.

A fur­ther 12 beds for young peo­ple with men­tal health is­sues were slated to be opened in a unit in Char­lot­te­town. So far the public has not been up­dated on progress for that pro­ject.

But if at least one pa­tient at Hills­bor­ough Hos­pi­tal would rather be put in jail than spend another day there, it looks like work can’t be­gin too soon at look­ing for al­ter­na­tives for peo­ple like her.

The courts in P.E.I. see cases al­most ev­ery day in­volv­ing peo­ple with men­tal health and ad­dic­tions is­sues who aren’t re­ally hard­ened crim­i­nal but who pose a threat to them­selves and oth­ers if left to live alone in the com­mu­nity.

Surely it would be bet­ter for the province as a whole to find a more suit­able place for them to live than to leave it up to a judge to de­cide if that place is in jail.

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