Rural mom recounts late son's struggle to get mental health help

A report on Manitoba's mental health and addictions services found many people have concerns about limited access and availability to services in rural Manitoba.

Family's fight drives home Virgo report's findings on limited access to services in rural Manitoba

Sharon Kucher, whose son Craig died while out on a day pass from Brandon's Centre for Adult Psychiatry in 2012, isn't surprised by the report's findings, but is hopeful it will spark change. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

A report on Manitoba's mental health and addictions services found many people have concerns about limited access and availability to services in rural Manitoba. 

The report, which made 130 recommendations on how to improve the system, was commissioned by the province last year and released Monday by Virgo Planning and Evaluation.

It found people outside of Winnipeg have run into roadblocks and gaps accessing and navigating services.

For Sharon Kucher, the report's findings didn't come as a surprise. Her son Craig, 24, died in June 2012 after he fell from a train. He was out on a day pass from Brandon's Centre for Adult Psychiatry. 

"Every step of the way it's been fighting to try to be listened to, try to find some programs that will help him," Kucher told CBC News on Thursday. "He quickly learned how to get himself kicked out of programs. What limited resources we did have, they were shut down on us."

Craig battled a number of heath issues, including Asperger's, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Sharon Kucher has a binder full of memories to remember her son Craig. It also contains all documents from an inquest that was held following his death. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

"As a family, we felt we were left with no resources basically," his mother said. 

Inquest called 

An inquest was called into Craig's death because he was a hospital patient at the time he died. The medical examiner couldn't definitively say if his death was an accident or suicide. 

Kucher said her family felt her son didn't receive the care he needed in hospital and fell through the cracks. 

Respondents to the Virgo report said there were concerns about a lack of communication and co-ordination between agencies.

​Sharon Kucher hopes Virgo report sparks change for mental health services

4 years ago
Sharon Kucher's son Craig died in 2012 while on a day pass from the Brandon hospital's psychiatric ward. She's not surprised with the report recommendations and says the reality is parents need to fight for their kids. 2:01

"He had been let go ... he didn't have enough counselling while he was in there," Kucher said. "There was no involvement of the family, which is a key element I believe."

"After care, he was told to go down to the Town Centre and get some counselling and such ... that should have been in place before he got there and it wasn't," said Kucher.

Respondents also raised concerns about the location of services. Those in remote communities reported having to travel to access mental health and addiction services. Long wait times to access some services were also identified as a concern. 

More collaboration needed 

More collaboration between agencies is something Danielle Lalonde would also like to see. Lalonde, founder of Westman Families of Addicts, has been advocating for those with addictions after running into issues accessing services for her son, who is battling a meth addiction.

"We're expecting people with mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders to actually be able to navigate that system when they're having problems navigating life," said Lalonde. "A very positive first step would be to bring everybody to the table."

"I feel better that maybe the government is taking a step in the right direction," Lalonde added. "I think it would help immensely at this point."

Craig Kucher, 24, died in 2012 while out on a day pass from a Brandon psychiatric ward. An inquest report into his death was released in 2016.

The Virgo consultants found there was too much variability in the response to people who presented to emergency departments with mental health or substance abuse issues across the province due to inequitable gaps in access to services.

The consultants recommended developing regional focal points to help people navigate the system as well as expanding telehealth-delivered services to rural and northern communities.

Time will tell 

Kucher said while she's pleased the government seems focused on improving the system, only time will tell.

"I'm happy that the government is finally showing some signs that it's realizing how big a problem mental health issues and addictions are in Manitoba," she said. "We're just playing a waiting game to see what this will revolve into." 

For now, she said parents need to fight. She hopes speaking about her son's death will help other families navigate the system and ultimately improve it. 

"You've got to be proactive, you have to stand your ground," Kucher said. "As a parent you know that something's wrong and something's going wrong. You have to stand up and make yourself heard."

"You need to ask questions, you need to be there, you need to be involved," she said. 

Craig Kucher inquest report calls for clearer protocols in psychiatric patient releases

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The death of a man on a two-day leave from a Brandon psychiatric ward was likely an accident and not suicide, but clearer protocols should be put in place for patients and those caring for them on release from hospital, a Manitoba judge ruled. 1:56