The province has appointed an independent expert to review the practices at a Halifax hospital in the wake of allegations that the hospital strip-searched Rehtaeh Parsons, who was receiving treatment for suicidal thoughts a year before her death.
On Tuesday, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter’s office issued a release announcing that the province has appointed independent and nationally recognized psychiatrist Dr. Jane Davidson to review addictions programs, services and policies at Capital Health, and the IWK Health Centre, specifically.
Rehtaeh’s father, Glen Canning, said that in March 2012 his daughter was suicidal, and he took her to the IWK’s emergency department. She was admitted to 4-South, the mental health unit.
Canning told CBC News that Rehtaeh said she'd been strip-searched by two male workers who were looking for a razor.
The hospital said in an email to CBC News that in extreme circumstances clothing is removed from patients who are at a severely high risk of using their clothing to harm themselves, but later issued a statement saying the teen "was not stripped nor strip-searched by two men while in our care."
Rehtaeh took her own life earlier this year at the age of 17. Her family alleges she was sexually assaulted by several boys at a party when she was 15 and a photo of the incident was circulated online. Her family said she was bullied for months, and the relentless taunting led to her death.
Davidson will begin her review immediately.
The review is one of the recommendations from an external review completed by the Halifax Regional School Board’s handling Rehtaeh's case.
"We've already received a report on Halifax Regional School Board’s actions. Now we will look at the policies in place at the IWK Health Centre and Capital Health to gain a fuller picture of this situation, to ensure the best quality care for patients and their loved ones," said Marilyn More, lead minister for the Action Team on Sexual Violence and Bullying.
As part of the new, independent review, the province said Davidson will:
- Determine if current treatment and counselling services for victims of sexual assault and bullying meet the needs of youth.
- Examine existing IWK policies, procedures and guidelines for patient assessment, triage, referral, treatment and followup care.
- Examine current IWK policies, procedures and guidelines for followup where youth are assessed to be at risk of self-harm or suicide, where this risk is not at a level that requires hospitalization.
- Look at policies, procedures and guidelines that are in place to educate and support families.
- Determine if current IWK and Capital Health policies promote effective collaboration between the IWK, Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team, and Youth Health Centres serving young people.
"We welcome the opportunity to work with government on this review," said Anne McGuire, president and CEO of the IWK Health Centre.
"Children and youth at risk in Nova Scotia need an integrated system of supports to be assured the best mental health and addictions treatment possible. We recognize the important role we play in that system, and we are supportive of exploring any opportunities to enhance the treatment of mental illness for our young people and their families."
The final report is expected Sept. 30.
The province said it will address "gaps in current programs, services, policies, procedures and guidelines within the IWK and Capital Health and give recommendations on changes needed to more effectively help youth living with mental health and addictions issues."