Islanders with nowhere to call their home
Mental health case in provincial court points to gap in system
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.