Beth MacLean claims 15 years spent in hospital discrimination

Beth MacLean has an intellectual disability and has lived at Emerald Hall at the Nova Scotia Hospital for the last 15 years. She is one of three Nova Scotians who will have their complaint heard by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in the upcoming months.

Woman with intellectual disability has lived at Emerald Hall in Dartmouth since 2000

Jo-Anne Pushie (left) used to be Beth MacLean's social worker while working at Emerald Hall, where MacLean has lived for the last 15 years. (CBC)

For nearly 15 years, Beth MacLean has wanted to live in a community. That dream has remained unfulfilled despite the 43-year-old being told she is capable of doing so with support.

MacLean has an intellectual disability and lives in a locked unit of Emerald Hall at the Nova Scotia Hospital.

She is one of three Nova Scotians who will bring their complaint to a human rights hearing in the upcoming months.

When MacLean was admitted to the Nova Scotia hospital in 2000, she was told she would have supported living in the community within a year. She's been in an institution ever since, despite being told she's ready to leave. 

"A long, long, long time," said MacLean.

Her former social worker, now her friend and advocate, said it is discrimination to keep MacLean and others from the community once they are ready. 

"People should be admitted to Emerald Hall, treated, a period of stabilization and they should return to the community," said Jo-Anne Pushie.

"That's where the roadblock is."

Making the case

Vince Calderhead, a staff lawyer with Nova Scotia Legal Aid, represents MacLean and the two other respondents in the human rights violation complaint. 

"This province is one of the very last in Canada to rely really significantly on institutions for providing accommodation for people with disabilities," said Calderhead. 

While the province continues to express its intention to get people with mental disabilities out of institutionalized care and into the community, that's happening too slowly for Calderhead.

He says keeping people like MacLean in an institution blocks others who need those spaces from getting them.

Pushie said she hopes the Human Rights Commission will rule in favour of MacLean and the other respondents, so that her friend can enjoy the same freedoms most people take for granted. 

"To be able to move into the community. To live, work and play in the community the same as you and I," said Pushie. 

By mid-June, Calderhead expects to have confirmation that the complaint will be heard, which he expects will happen in the fall.

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