Inquest into 2013 suicide at Hillsborough Hospital underway

An inquest began this morning the death of Sherry Ball at Hillsborough Hospital.

Sherry Ball, 47, died at the psychiatric hospital two years ago

47-year-old Sherry Ball died at Hillsborough Hospital on Dec. 1, 2013. (CBC)

WARNING: This story contains details about a suicide. Some people may find it disturbing.

An inquest began Monday into a patient's suicide at Hillsborough Hospital. 

47-year-old Sherry Ball died at the psychiatric hospital in Charlottetown on Dec. 1, 2013. An inquest into her death was ordered by the chief coroner.

Under P.E.I.'s Coroner's Act, an inquest must be held when there is a death at a public institution that may have been preventable.

Monday the inquest jury heard from staff who were on duty in unit 8 at the hospital the night Ball died.

The head nurse testified that at 7:35 p.m. on the night of Ball's death, she heard a colleague call her name and tell her to come quickly. 

A resident care worker had found Ball in the bathroom of her private room. She had used an electrical cord to hang herself from the shower curtain rod. It was revealed later the cord came from a radio Ball had brought with her to that room.

There were efforts to try to revive her, which were unsuccessful.

Ball transferred from QEH to Hillsborough

Ball was transferred to Hillsborough Hospital on Nov. 29, 2013 — just two days before her death.

Prior to that, she had been at the psychiatric unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Staff at Hillsborough Hospital described her as being "agitated" the day before her death.

That day, Nov. 30, she had been moved from one room to another in unit 8. She went from a twin room to a private room and then to an observation room that only contained a mattress. 

There, she hit her head against the wall, and was treated for abrasions to her forehead.

The next morning, Ball was released from the observation room, and returned to the private room.

During the course of her stay, she was kept under a lower level of monitoring, level four, meaning she could come and go around the unit as she liked and was checked on by staff every half hour.

Temporary publication ban on some details

The inquest heard Ball had been appointed a public guardian due to mental health issues, meaning she was not able to make her own decisions about her own personal welfare.

She was also there as a result of a criminal incident she was involved in, where she was found not criminally responsible for her actions.

Other details of how Ball ended up at Hillsborough Hospital cannot be reported, as Inquest Coroner Dr. Roy Montgomery approved a temporary, partial publication ban on Ball's "private, social and medical history" until the jury delivers its findings. Montgomery said after the jury delivers its findings he'll rule if any information should remain under publication ban.

The ban was requested by the lawyer representing Health PEI, Mary Lynn Kane, who asked that the media only be allowed to report information "relevant to the purpose of the inquest."

She said Health PEI is seeking to safeguard the privacy of Ball and her family and to maintain public confidence in the protection of personal, private information in the possession of Health PEI as the health authority for the province.

Crown lawyer Jeff MacDonald told the court Ball's family had no specific position on the application for a publication ban.

The CBC is opposing the publication ban.

Inquest being heard by jury

Before the submission for a ban was made, a jury of six was sworn in to hear testimony this week, and will be expected to deliver recommendations at the end of the inquest as to how a death like this one might be prevented in the future.

Specifically, jury members were told the purpose of this inquest is to determine who Ball was, how, where and by what means she came to her death.

A week has been set aside for the inquest. It is being held at the P.E.I. Supreme Court in Charlottetown.

With files from the CBC's Kerry Campbell.