CBC News has learned officials at Villa Caritas were told that wall hooks were a safety concern at least two months before a man hanged himself at the west Edmonton psychiatric facility.

Dennis Malayko, a health and safety representative for the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said Tuesday that he and AUPE president Guy Smith pointed out the hooks while on a pre-occupancy hazard assessment tour with facility officials in January.

"We did express some concerns about a hook in the room ... as well as in the closet where they hang the clothes, in regards to the potential for causing harm to oneself," Malayko said.

News of the death was revealed earlier Tuesday by NDP Leader Brian Mason, who raised it in the Alberta legislature.

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NDP Leader Brian Mason learned of the death on Tuesday morning. (CBC)

Mason blamed the suicide on the province's haste to close Alberta Hospital and move patients to the geriatric psychiatric facility, which had its official opening on Monday.

"The government was warned Villa Caritas was designed as a long-term care facility and lacked many essential features necessary to ensure the safety of psychiatric patients," Mason said during question period Tuesday. "Now a patient is dead."

The man hanged himself on a clothing hook, Mason later told reporters.

Villa Caritas built for long-term care

"This was brought to the government's attention. The government knew that there was criticism of the suitability of this facility," he said. "I think that they have to be held accountable for this."

Covenant Health-run Villa Caritas was originally supposed to house long-term care patients from the aging Edmonton General Hospital.

But in September 2009, the province announced the 150-bed facility would instead be used for more than 100 geriatric patients from Alberta Hospital, a psychiatric institution. Health officials started moving small groups of patients to Villa Caritas in January.  

Mason said the Alberta NDP was notified Tuesday morning about the death, which occurred sometime within the last one to three weeks. The patient in question had died within days of moving to Villa Caritas, Mason said.

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Premier Ed Stelmach prepares to speak at the official opening of Villa Caritas on Monday. (CBC)

Mason pointed to so-called blind spots in the building — areas that are unmonitored. Showers, bathrooms and light fixtures are all potential places for suicide, he said.

"Given that the geriatric unit at Alberta Hospital was properly designed for seniors with serious mental illnesses, why did this minister proceed to transfer patients?" he asked.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said Villa Caritas, near the Misericordia Hospital, is a state-of-the-art institution that offers patients a safe and ideal living space. He said he wasn't aware of any problems.

"It's an outstanding facility doing outstanding work for some very vulnerable people who need it," he said.

The AUPE's Malayko said he asked Villa Caritas officials to hold a hazard assessment meeting with staff, who could confirm that the hooks would not be safe for patients. But he isn't sure if that meeting ever happened.

A spokesperson with Villa Caritas said officials felt the safety tour with the union was positive.

Corrections

  • The walk-through with Villa Caritas officials that Dennis Malayko refers to occurred in January. An earlier version of this story stated it happened in December.
    Mar 09, 2011 10:25 AM MT
With files from the CBC's John Archer