Halifax Regional Police say it took eight hours for health officials to tell them that a psychiatric patient who went missing from the Abbie J. Lane Building on Wednesday morning was a high risk to the public.
Const. Pierre Bourdages said officers were informed that William Cotton was missing, but were not initially told that he could pose a public risk.
"Once we received that information we did put additional units in place, additional resources in place, to make sure that we locate this individual," Bourdages said Thursday.
This comes as a registered nurse, who works in the Abbey J. Lane, said she's concerned staff on her floor were not told Cotton had left and that he posed a risk.
Angie Rose was not at work on Wednesday and heard about Cotton on the news. When she called her unit — which is a couple of floors above where Cotton was staying — she said the person who picked up the phone told her they had no idea the man was missing.
Rose said she feared a nurse might be followed after leaving work and attacked.
"It was very unfortunate that we were not alerted earlier so that we could make sure that everybody was safe," Rose said.
The Abbey J. Lane primarily treats people with acute mental illness. The Capital District Health Authority put out a press release at 4 p.m. saying Cotton, 45, had left the Abbey J. Lane building without permission.
Cotton found nearly 12 hours later
Cotton left the facility at 8:05 a.m. on Wednesday. The health authority provided a description of him but no picture and would not say why he was considered a danger.
Cotton was found at around 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday by RCMP in Lower Sackville and was returned to the hospital.
Dr. Scott Theriault, the clinical director for psychiatry at the Capital District Health Authority, said police were told Cotton was an involuntary patient at Abbey J. Lane.
By that definition, Theriault said, police should have known the man posed a risk to himself or the public, or there was a risk of "significant deterioration."
Theriault would not say what concerned officials about Cotton. He said the man was not in the forensic unit, which houses psychiatric patients who have committed crimes. He said there was a risk as Cotton's mental health deteriorated, but it was not imminent.
"Civilly committed psychiatric patients are patients first and foremost," Theriault said.
"Our primary concern is for patient confidentiality. We break that only when we think that there is a significant concern to the public, or to the patients."