Mom who lost son to suicide says legislation that will let doctors warn families 'makes all the difference'

New legislation introduced Tuesday by the Manitoba government will ensure no other person such as Reid Bricker, who tried to kill himself three times before, would be released from hospital without a loved one knowing why.

New law would permit hospital staff to express concerns to loved ones of patients at risk of serious harm

Bonnie Bricker is pleased the government is planning to let health-care professionals convey their concerns to a patient's support network to hopefully avert a tragedy. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Bonnie Bricker believes if new legislation introduced Tuesday had existed three years ago, the doctor who last saw her son alive might have had another option to stop him.

The Manitoba government's new law is intended to ensure no other person such as Reid Bricker, who made three suicide attempts before he killed himself in 2015, will be released from hospital without a loved one knowing why. 

Reid's fourth attempt at ending his life turned out to be his last.

"The doctor that saw Reid last on that evening let him go. Don't you think he would have appreciated a chance to change that decision?" asked Bonnie Bricker, who lost her 33-year-old son in October 2015.

"To say, 'Listen, you're really not feeling good — I can't keep you here because I don't even have a place for you, I don't have a psychiatrist at the moment who can talk to you.'"

Faith in hospital staff

Through the new bill, the provincial government wants to allow medical professionals to contact a patient's support network in situations where serious harm is likely to result otherwise.

The information can be communicated even when the patient has not granted permission.

The new bill would also extend to patients in a psychiatric facility, the province said in a news release.

"We are trying to strike the right balance when it comes to, obviously, our responsibility to safeguard the health information of Manitobans," Health Minister Cameron Friesen said.

"On the other side, it's that allowance that other jurisdictions [have] made to give tools to medical providers to be able to make contact with family members and loved ones."

The province's current privacy laws only permit disclosures in cases when tragedy is imminent, which Friesen said ignores the seriousness of threats without a timetable.

He said lowering the threshold is a "reasonable step and in some cases it may make the difference between life and death."

I got to see film footage of him leaving the hospital, and you see him just shrugging — like, 'Now what?'- Bonnie Bricker

Bricker said the province is making the right choice.

"Taking out 'immediate' makes all the difference, because you can't tell me [medical professionals] aren't intelligent enough or prepared enough to see, 'Oh man, this guy is not feeling well,'" she said.

Bonnie Bricker says the doctor who last saw her son Reid had documentation that indicated he would try to end his life again. (Submitted by Bricker family)

In the case of her son, she says the doctor who last saw her son had documentation that indicated he would try to end his life again.

"This man is determined to take his life, whether it's [in] the next three minutes, next three months or the next three years," Bonnie Bricker said.

"I got to see film footage of him leaving the hospital and you see him just shrugging — like, 'Now what?'"

She said she's confident that hospital staff will make the right call on patient disclosure when they aren't worried about punishment for speaking out.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the bill sounds a lot like what River Heights Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard has pressed the government on, with the help of Bricker.

"It's good to see that it's been picked up by the government, because basically this is a Liberal bill," Lamont said.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew likes the idea behind the legislation, but questions how much it will help families in need.

"Disclosing that individual's information is not necessarily going to get them the service they need," he said. 

If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there. Contact the Manitoba Suicide Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170 (1-877-HELP170) or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-688-6868.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.