Patients ready for release kept at N.S. psychiatric hospital for years, hearing told

Some patients held at the East Coast Forensic Hospital are kept there years longer than needed because of a lack of outpatient services, a data analyst with the Nova Scotia Health Authority told a human rights inquiry Tuesday.

East Coast Forensic Hospital can't discharge patients due to wait for outside services: analyst

Data analyst Patryk Simon says a survey shows some forensic hospital patients are having to wait up to six years or more for release. (CBC )

Some patients held at the East Coast Forensic Hospital are kept there years longer than needed because of a lack of outpatient services, a data analyst with the Nova Scotia Health Authority told a human rights inquiry Tuesday.

Although patients may have been approved to be released under certain conditions, Patryk Simon told the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission board of inquiry that they're kept in the institution because of long wait times for services people need after discharge.

It's one of the latest pieces of evidence before the board as it decides whether the province violated the rights of two people it kept in a different psychiatric ward for more than a decade.

Waiting more than 6 years

An April 2018 survey of patients ready for an "alternative level of care" found that 19 of the 57 beds at the psychiatric facility were filled by people who could have been discharged — provided that they could get support services in the community.

One of the people in the report about the East Coast Forensic Hospital had been waiting more than six years for release, according to the survey.

Five others had waiting for between two and five years, while another five had been ready for release for at least one year.

Eight others had been on the release list for less than a year.

On Tuesday, Justice Department lawyer Kevin Kindred suggested a flaw in the data, which is collected on a specific day each month.

Despite the fact the internal document suggests the average wait time for an assessment between March 2017 and April 2018 was 371 days, Kindred said some patients could have been assessed between two consecutive sample dates and that data would not show up in the report.

A scrappy cross-examination

"Your data doesn't cover a large portion of people who have been waiting less than a month for that assessment," Kindred said to Simon during cross-examination.

Although conceding that might be possible, Simon suggested it was not probable.

The two disagreed again when Kindred suggested the average wait time might be exaggerated by a small number of people with high wait times.

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)

 "Or a lot of people with high wait times and very few with a short wait time," replied Simon.

"Well, fair enough," conceded Kindred.

Claire McNeil, the lawyer who called Simon to testify, represents the Disability Rights Coalition of Nova Scotia, who are also part of the complaint.

She said the provincial analyst's testimony is important for two reasons.

'Among the most disadvantaged of people'

"The group of people at the East Coast Forensic Hospital, who are sitting and waiting for a place in the community are among the most disadvantaged of people with disabilities in this province, and so it's really important to look at them because they are suffering significant depravation of their liberty," said McNeil.

She said the second reason is that Simon's testimony establishes that in 2004, the Department of Community Services was aware of long wait times.

"Not a lot has changed and the gridlocks in the system continue," said McNeil.

'Institutional abandonment'

Simon's testimony comes on Day 15 of a groundbreaking human rights inquiry that is weighing whether the Department of Community Services violated the Human Rights Act by keeping Joseph Delaney and Beth MacLean at the Emerald Hall psychiatric ward of the Nova Scotia Hospital for more than a decade. 

In March, the department promised to find small-options homes for the two complainants.

Around that time, there were 504 people awaiting some form of support from the Department of Community Services, and 1,024 people awaiting a transfer to a different housing option or location.

In the last provincial budget, the Liberal government announced that there is an additional $2.1 million to help create small-options homes and group homes.

The Department of Community Services has said there's $16.2 million in additional funding to support the transitions, with about $10 million to cope with a fresh influx of people into the province's disability programs.