Leaving institutionalized care changed son's life, mother tells inquiry

Leslie Lowther said her son, who has a traumatic brain injury, was sometimes locked up after a fit of aggression or had family time taken away.

Man with traumatic brain injury locked up after a fit of aggression, mother says

Leslie Lowther, seen in this file photo, testified Thursday at a provincial human rights board of inquiry about the experiences of her son, Richard Rector, in institutionalized care. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia woman told a provincial human rights board of inquiry that leaving institutionalized care changed her son's life.

In her testimony on Thursday, Leslie Lowther recalled the lowest point in both her and her 32-year-old son's life.  

"He looked at me and said, 'Mom I'm dead. I'm just dead.'"

Richard Rector had been living at Quest at the time, an adult care facility in Lower Sackville, N.S.

"As a parent with no power to help him, there's no other feeling like it," Lowther said.

The board of inquiry is hearing the case of two complainants who say the province violated their basic human rights by forcing them to live in institutionalized care instead of a smaller home with fewer residents and professional staff around the clock.   

Rector is not one of those complainants. But lawyers for the Disability Rights Coalition say Lowther's testimony illustrates the effect institutionalized care has on patients.  

Deep depression 

Rector was in an ATV accident in 2004 when he was 18. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and doctors told his family he'd never progress beyond "an immature 18-year-old."   

Rector speaks and can walk, but his hands shake, his mother said. He can shower, shave and eat, but has a poor short-term memory. He's also prone to aggression.

Lowther said before her son was moved into institutionalized care in Lower Sackville, "We just sort of dealt with [his aggression] as it came."

Eventually, it became too much for his family and Rector was moved to Quest in 2009. Lowther told the hearing that neither he nor his family liked it.

Beth MacLean, right, is one of the complaints in the case. She is seen here with her social worker, Jo-Anne Pushie. (CBC)

"It's a warehouse," Lowther said. "He got into a deep depression and he didn't care. He just didn't care."

During her testimony, Lowther was asked how staff at Quest would punish her son during a fit of aggression. She testified that at times he'd be put in a locked room or had family time taken away from him.

One such punishment, Lowther recalled, was when Rector was denied permission to go home for Christmas.

Lowther also said there are cameras "everywhere" in the Quest facility.

Constant pleas to move

Lowther testified that she made constant pleas with staff at Quest and the Department of Community Services to have her son moved out the facility and into a smaller home.

She said she was routinely told that Rector had to "control his outbursts" first.

Lowther said her son didn't form relationships with any of the other residents at Quest.

She said he was assaulted twice by one of residents.

"He was just existing, that was it."

Lowther recalled having a near-meltdown two years ago during a meeting with Rector's care team, which included staff from Quest and the Department of Community Services.

"I'm not going to be here forever," she recalls saying. "I need to have him settled. His own bedroom, his own space."

Uplifted after leaving Quest

For the past year and half, Rector has been living in a home in Windsor with one other resident plus staff.   

Lowther said it's turned his life around and he has his sense of humour back. He works at a local food bank and helps prepare his own meals.

"They're asking Richard what he needs," Lowther said.