'It was supposed to be safe': Family questions man's suicide in psych ward as inquiry begins
Glenn Piche's family say AHS failed to properly inform them in years since his death
A Medicine Hat family can't explain why Alberta Health Services has failed to give them information about the death of Glenn Piche, who was found hanging in his bathroom in the psychiatric unit at the Medicine Hat regional hospital in 2013.
The 49-year-old, who had a history of mental illness, was resuscitated but died from his injuries the next day, on June 21.
A three-day fatality inquiry starts Wednesday in Medicine Hat.
"It's difficult. It's been a struggle, I'm still struggling with it," said Kimberly Piche, one of Glenn's four daughters.
The family thought Piche was finally out of harm's way after he was admitted to the hospital.
"It was supposed to be safe and it wasn't for him. It's hard to think of what he went through, and how he was feeling and how he didn't get the help he needed," said Kimberly.
"They kind of just left him alone there, and no one took care of him."
According to the family, Glenn had been to the hospital before for mental health treatment. They say he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had difficulty dealing with stressful situations.
Two days before his death, his family said Glenn got into an argument with his wife and said he was going to take his own life.
Glenn's brother, Marc Piche, described Glenn as being "in crisis" and was worried, so he called the RCMP.
Marc said officers took Glenn to the hospital where he was admitted to the secure psychiatric unit known as "5-North."
"I felt at peace, I thought, 'Wow, he's going to be okay,'" said Marc.
However, he said it was Glenn's second night in the hospital when a security guard found his brother in the bathroom around 11 p.m.
AHS initially said quality review shared with family
In a statement to CBC News, Alberta Health Services initially said it completed what it called a quality review following Glenn's death and the findings were shared with the Piche family.
AHS said staff were given "improved education" on assessing suicide risk.
"Since this incident, AHS has implemented this and continues to improve how we assess patients for risk of suicide," reads the statement.
"Other recommendations included how information is collected and shared between staff. Those recommendations have also been implemented. The results of the review were shared with the family in December 2013."
AHS admits findings weren't shared
Marc disputed AHS's statement and said he had no knowledge of the so-called quality review.
"We don't have no documentation on it, we have nothing. Why would they say something when they didn't notify the family?" he said.
Late Tuesday, AHS sent out a revised statement admitting the findings of the review were not shared with the family.
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"AHS thought this had been done but new information shows that the findings were not shared. We are reaching out to the family to apologize for not following up with them about the quality assurance review in a timely manner. We will also offer to review the findings," the statement said.
The family says they've spent at least $60,000 on two lawyers to fight for the fatality inquiry.
Under the provincial legislation, a judge presiding over an inquiry may make recommendations to prevent similar deaths, but the judge cannot make any findings of legal responsibility.
The family says that's not what they're looking for.
"I want to know what happened. Why did the system break down?" said Marc.
They are concerned about the state of mental health services in Medicine Hat and the way the family was kept in the dark following Glenn's death.
CBC News asked for an interview with Alberta's mental health patient advocate but the request was declined due to the start of the inquiry.
'Critical gaps in the system'
While some of the circumstances surrounding Glenn's death may surface during the inquiry, at least one expert believes Albertans are being shortchanged when it comes to mental health services.
"It's a tragedy and it also points to critical gaps in the system," said Rebecca Haines-Saah, a public health researcher at the University of Calgary.
"There's a shortage across the board. Compared to other provinces, we spend less money on mental health services."
Haines-Saah said she hopes the inquiry will hear what protocols and procedures were in place for monitoring patients at the hospital at the time of Glenn's death — and what's been done since to prevent similar deaths.
She would also like to know if there were options other than admitting Piche to the psychiatric unit and why there weren't any longer-term supports available to address his mental illness.
Tragically, Glenn's wife also took her own life a year after he was found hanging in the hospital.
David Carter, who officiated at both funerals, hopes the inquiry will bring some peace to the family.
"Until the day they die, they're going to have bruises on their hearts, no matter what comes out of the inquiry," he said.
- Bryan Labby is an investigative reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.