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Newfoundland woman says mentally ill mother not getting help she needs

Katelyn Short (left) says her mother Tracey Short used to a vibrant, respected, outgoing woman, but since changes were made to her medication dosage for schizophrenia, things have taken a turn for the worse and the family is frustrated by the mental health system, which, she says, is not giving her mother the treatment she needs.
Katelyn Short (left) says her mother Tracey Short used to be a vibrant, respected, outgoing woman, but since changes were made to her medication dosage for schizophrenia, things have taken a turn for the worse and the family is frustrated by the mental health system, which, she says, is not giving her mother the treatment she needs. - Submitted

‘I feel so helpless’

Katelyn Short was so upset and had so much to say, she couldn’t get the words out fast enough.

“I’m at my wit’s end,” she said after contacting The Telegram earlier this week. “I don’t know where to turn, I feel so helpless.”

For months, the St. John’s woman has been desperately trying to get proper treatment for her mentally ill mother, who she said, has turned into a different person.

However, Short said the mental health system in this province is not handling things the way it should and despite pleas from the family to have her committed to the Waterford Hospital, has allowed things to spiral out of control — to the point where Tracey Lee Short is now in custody.

She appeared at provincial court in St. John’s on Tuesday and is undergoing a week-long psychiatric fitness assessment. She’s due back in court Feb. 28.

“I never thought in a million years something like this would happen to my beautiful mother,” Katelyn Short said, fighting tears.

Tracey had been diagnosed in 2009 with schizophrenia, but was doing well with her medication, Katelyn said. She was attending school to obtain her business certificate, she owns her own house and was an active member of the Schizophrenia Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.

But her mental health immediately took a turn for the worse last spring, she said, when her mother’s psychiatrist opted to lower the dosage of her medication.

“Instantly, she wasn’t herself,” Short said.

She said her mother would often experience episodes of paranoia and delusion, displayed erratic behaviour and, at points, became violent and expressed thoughts of suicide.

“She would laugh to the walls and became so paranoid, accusing people of raping her,” Short said, her voice quiver.

“I’m torn apart. I’m absolutely destroyed.

“I’m watching my mother — the wonderful woman who brought me into this world, my hero, a woman who overcame schizophrenia to become such a beautiful person and was thriving with such a good life — fall apart in front of us and we can’t get anyone to give her the help she needs.”

She and her family have consistently tried to seek help for her mother, taking her to the Waterford Hospital several times, but each time, she would be released, only to suffer psychotic and delusional episodes again.

Family unable to get help

“They kept telling us that a family member cannot get help for them unless she’s in full psychosis and unable to make decisions by herself,” said Short, who said she’s also called the crisis line and begged her mother’s doctor to get her proper treatment.

“They tell us she needs to help herself… They don’t feel her case is serious enough to have her (committed), but my mother needs to be properly assessed — not just looked at by a doctor for a few minutes or hours. They don’t think there’s anything (seriously) wrong with her, but we know the difference. We’re there to see it.

“How can they allow her to make her own decisions when it’s clear she’s not capable?”

She said one time, during a short stay at the Waterford, doctors allowed her privileges to leave the hospital and she ended up at her aunt’s house without a coat in the middle of the winter, without the family knowing she had been permitted out of the hospital. Another time, Short said, her mother left the hospital and ended up on the Trans-Canada Highway hitchhiking. And another time, she showed up at a relative’s house with another hospital patient, a participant in Special Olympics, who Short said was clearly mentally challenged. She told the family she was his social worker.

“How can they let these things happen? They never even called us to let us know she was out. We’re such a supportive family, but they don’t tell us anything,” Short said. “We want to help her get better, but they have to include us.”

Short’s most recent attempt to get her mother help last Tuesday ended with the woman being taken into custody. Short had taken her mother to the Waterford Hospital, she said, but was told that in order to have her mother taken from the hospital main’s main floor to the emergency department, she would need to call police to have her detained under the provincial Mental Health Care and Treatment Health Act.

“I didn’t know what else to do, so I called the police,” Short said.

But her mother resisted the officers, who ended up charging her with assaulting them and resisting arrest.

It’s the first time her mother has ever been in trouble with the law.

“So, here is my mother at the (St. John’s) Lockup, such a horrible place,” Short said. “Now, she’s lost in the system. She’s being treated like an inmate. She doesn’t need to be punished. She needs help!”

RNC Chief Joe Boland
RNC Chief Joe Boland

When contacted by The Telegram Friday, RNC Chief Joe Boland said that while he can’t comment on specific cases, he said Short’s case is an example of why there’s been a push to implement a mental-health mobile crisis response unit.

“The woman was in crisis and her daughter did the right thing. She needed to go to a hospital,” Boland said. “Unfortunately, the resources are not available and we (police) end up getting involved…

“In some cases, when you’ve got a uniformed officer in a marked patrol car, we have to handcuff and search the person and put them in the back of our car to detain the person. That’s not an ideal response and it gets met with resistance in many cases and it escalates the situation…. But that’s not the right approach.

“Here you have a medical issue and you’re trying to resolve it with a justice response. And even though we give our officers a fair bit of training in dealing with persons in crisis, it’s still not ideal.”

Pleaded for mobile mental health unit

Boland said it’s the reason why the RNC pleaded for the mobile unit to the House of Assembly all-party committee a few years ago. It’s been approved and Boland said it’s expected to be up and running by the end of March.

Modeled after the Memphis Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) in the United States, the unit would see a health-care professional — such as a nurse and/or social worker — accompany a plain-clothed police officer to respond to a mental-health call.

The primary goals, he said, are to increase safety for all involved in encounters with people suffering from mental illnesses, and divert them from the criminal justice system to the health-care system.

Boland said the trained health-care professional would determine the best course of action, while the officer’s responsibility would be to ensure everyone’s safety.

“It’s not simple but we’re getting closer to providing the right response,” Boland said.

Eastern Health was also unable to comment on specific cases, but when contacted by The Telegram regarding its policy on mental health issues, a prepared statement outlined its procedures.

It said when a person presents at a hospital, an assessment helps determined if the person requires admission. That can happen either as a voluntary or involuntary patient.

 An involuntary patient meets the criteria for certification under the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act, in which invention is required to provide services in severe cases.

“Each individual is assessed within their unique presentation and may be certified if they meet the criteria (outlined in the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act),” the statement reads.

It points out that patients may be granted off-ward privileges upon assessment by their attending psychiatrist. Off-ward privileges allow a person to go outside the inpatient unit but remain on hospital grounds.

For voluntary patients, therapeutic passes may be given to allow a person to go home or to visit family for a period of time that may include overnight.

“Any patient, voluntary or involuntary, who requests discharge has to be assess by a physician prior to leaving the hospital,” it states.

As part of the discharge plan, Eastern Health offers patients and clients continued follow-up with a mental health professional. As part of the discharge process, patients or clients can have a transition period whereby they may return to the hospital at any time for any reason.

Regarding family involvement, Eastern Health says family connection is encouraged, but it’s up to the patient whether to have their family informed about counselling or discharge.

An involuntary patient can appoint a person, either family or someone else, as their representative with respect to their treatment plan, but has the right to refuse to appoint one.

Short is shocked at how doctors assessed her mother’s case couldn’t see the severity of her situation. She prays someone will soon.

“I’m never, ever giving up on her,” Short said. “People need to know what’s really going on with our mental health system.

“My mother is missing out on so much in life because of old rules that need to be changed. But it seems nobody cares.”

Twitter: TelyRosie

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