Inquiry into suicide of psychiatric patient 'a nothing document,' says dad

The father of a 26-year-old man who died by suicide while in psychiatric care at the Foothills hospital says a public fatality inquiry into his son's death is largely worthless.

Bob Reader says he expected more from a judge's report into what led to his son's death

Bob Reader was disappointed in the fatality inquiry into his son James' suicide. (CBC/Cindy Reader)

The father of a 26-year-old man who died by suicide while in psychiatric care at the Foothills hospital says a public fatality inquiry into his son's death is largely worthless. 

"There seems to be difficulty in initiating any changes to the monolithic healthcare system," said Bob Reader. "There's no real substance to that report, I mean, it's kind of lip service, it's not really helpful."

His son, James Reader, voluntarily checked himself into the psychiatric unit on Dec. 29, 2014. As a voluntary patient, he was allowed to leave at any time but had to agree to a proposed course of treatment. 

He suffered from a history of addictions and mental health issues and complained of suicidal thoughts on several occasions while under the care of the Foothills psychiatric ward.

He died by suicide on March 7, 2015, while away from the unit but still on hospital grounds.

No recommendations

The fatality inquiry, prepared by judge Peter Barley, makes no recommendations for changes in how psychiatric patients are handled at the Foothills.

It does note that it's standard practice since James' death that patients are not allowed to leave the unit within the first 30 minutes of a nurse's shift so they have time to evaluate an individual's state of mind.

Additionally, it's now required that every patient be asked a series of questions that address the risk of suicide during each nurse's eight hour shift. 

"It's not helping the situation or addressing what needs to be addressed really, I don't think," said Bob Reader.

"And that would be better access from family and friends to help share information about the client, that would be very helpful for everybody to assist in helping their condition. That wasn't addressed."

Barley's report notes there could be informal conversations between psychiatrists and families but that privacy, particularly when it comes to voluntary patients, should be protected. 

"A patient that has the right to refuse treatment and who is learning to trust the treatment staff, might very well be reluctant to engage with the treatment team if they knew that family members were being asked for information about the patient," reads the report. 

"As such, I do not think that I have enough information to support a recommendation in this regard that could apply to all mentally ill patients."

'Not acceptable'

Bob Reader does not blame staff at the hospital for his son's death, but says the system is broken and provides little hope and little help. He doesn't think that will change until there's the political will to spend the money required to provide proper care.

"I think that the psychiatrist and the staff are doing as good a job as they can do, it's a tough situation. But the hospital situation is not acceptable," he said. 

"Homelessness, mental health issues, drug addiction issues, there is no recourse. They have a place where they can go and get clean and then they're dumped right back on the street again, and this document indicates that the status quo is going to be maintained. Maintained? That's ridiculous. It's a nothing document."

With files from Andrew Brown