New Brunswick

'A great day': N.B. bill aims to help mentally ill in their homes

The Liberal government has introduced legislation to respond to growing calls for a new form of mental health treatment in the province.

Proposed new form of mental health treatment follows calls for 'Serena's law' at coroner's inquest

Retired Moncton psychologist said Tuesday was 'a great day' for New Brunswick, people with mental illness and their parents. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

The Liberal government has introduced legislation to respond to growing calls for a new form of mental health treatment in the province.

The bill would allow doctors to issue community treatment orders so that a mentally ill person could be treated locally rather than in an institution.

Health Minister Victor Boudreau concedes New Brunswick may be 'a little late' in moving to community treatment orders. (CBC)
It's designed to help patients avoid getting worse and becoming dangerous.

"There would be a treatment plan put together where we're basically bringing the services to them in the community, wrap-around services, trying to avoid hospital admissions and those types of things," Health Minister Victor Boudreau told reporters.

Begins in November

The province will spend $1.35 million in the next fiscal year and create the equivalent of 10 full-time positions to provide the service, which will begin in November.

Without the change, the health care system would be powerless to help someone with a mental illness until they're considered dangerous.

"You can admit someone for 72 hours in a crisis situation," Boudreau said. "But then someone is released without having that plan, that wrap-around plan, and a suite of services to really support that individual in getting through their mental health issue, their crisis, and putting them back on track where they can function within society."

Serena Perry, 22, was found dead in the Saint John Regional Hospital's amphitheatre on Feb. 14, 2012. (Courtesy of Castle Funeral Home)
The Liberals promised to bring in the orders in their election campaign and it was also a recommendation out of the coroner's inquest into the death of Serena Perry.

In 2012, the Saint John woman died in the Saint John Regional Hospital, where she was being held involuntarily because she refused to take medication for her mental illness when she was not in hospital.

'Serena's law'

A coroner's inquest recommended a "Serena's law," and the legislation was introduced on the fifth anniversary of Perry's death.

Kevin Geldart, 34, died in May 2005 after RCMP used a stun gun to subdue him in a Moncton bar hours after he left the Moncton Hospital psychiatric unit. (CBC)
An inquest into the death of Moncton's Kevin Geldart called for the same reform. Geldart died in 2005 after RCMP officers used a stun gun to incapacitate him in a Moncton bar just hours after he had walked away from the psychiatric unit of the Moncton Hospital, where he was being treated for bipolar disorder.

Organizations such as the New Brunswick Psychiatric Association have also called for community treatment orders.

'A great day'

Albert Cyr, a retired Moncton psychologist who sat on a task force that recommended the move, called it "a great day for New Brunswick, for persons with mental illness, and for parents."

He said the orders will allow the health care system "to keep a person [with mental illness] in the community, to aim at preserving their health, to participate in the community and become a productive person in the community."

Cyr said he had a son who "lost his health" because it was impossible to access services.

'A little late'

Eight other provinces have laws allowing community support orders. Boudreau acknowledged New Brunswick has been "a little late" in creating them.

The service will be available across New Brunswick, he said.

Green Party Leader David Coon, who has said many times that mental health care services are underfunded in the province, said many mentally ill New Brunswickers and advocates "have felt handcuffed" by the lack of treatment orders in the past.

He said he wants to see more details on how the system will work.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.