New Brunswick

Death from despair at the Restigouche Hospital Centre

Members of Martin Michaud's family say his death at New Brunswick's psychiatric hospital in Campbellton in February could have been prevented. Michaud took his life two days after a scathing report found patient mistreatment, inadequate care and understaffing at the Restigouche Hospital Centre.

Family speaks out about Martin Michaud's final days at the hospital they say failed him

Martin Michaud, shown at right, died Feb. 9, 2019, at the Restigouche Hospital Centre in Campbellton. His family questions whether his death could have been prevented. (Radio-Canada)

Members of Martin Michaud's family describe him as an intellectual, an avid reader who from childhood was curious about the world around him and eager to share his knowledge.

"He would read you the dictionary if you'd let him," said his sister Marie-Hélène Michaud. 

That changed in his adolescence. A terrible shyness was eventually diagnosed as social phobia. Rosemonde Godin said her son tried to live a normal life, earning a degree and becoming a computer programmer. 

But she said difficult social relationships took their toll.

"With time he got really tired and fragile and the last years he went two times in a kind of psychosis, as if the social phobia went one step forward," Godin said. 

Family of a Restigouche Hospital patient who took his own life says he might still be alive if staff had made hourly rounds. 1:50

The last time was in December. There was a fear that Michaud, who lived with his partner and their two children, was a danger to himself and others.

"So people had to call 911 because he needed help, and the help that he could have was in Campbellton," Godin said. "That's where he was supposed to go to get evaluated for a period of about 30 days."

He never left.

On Feb. 9, Michaud, 38, was found dead in his room in the correctional unit of the province's only psychiatric hospital. He died two days after the New Brunswick ombud released a damning report outlining mistreatment of patients, inadequate care and understaffing at the facility opened in 2015.

Marc-André Michaud said that when his brother went to the hospital, it was a difficult time, but he believed Martin would get the help he needed.

"Honestly, my expectations were quite high because Martin had been going through a hard time for a very long time actually," Marc-André Michaud said. 

"Like the last few years of his life were very difficult, and in many ways it was the first time that we actually had hope in a long time."

That sense of hope was elevated by a call Godin received from her son in early February.

"He said, 'Could you buy me a gift on universal history?" she recalled. "And I said in my heart and  in my head, 'Oh my God, Martin is back.'

"It was such a great feeling that he was asking me for books. 'OK, he's on his way.'"

Roland Michaud and Marc-André Michaud examine the coroner's report on Martin Michaud's death. It indicates three hours passed from when his room was last checked by staff to when he was found dead. (Radio-Canada)

That all seemed to change three days later, the night of Feb. 8. It was the last time Martin's father, Roland Michaud, spoke with his son.

Martin was distraught and crying, saying a fellow patient had told him he could be at the centre for months, maybe even years. 

Roland Michaud tried to console him, telling him not to believe it, urging him to speak with a psychologist. 

"There are none," Martin replied. 

His father suggested talking to a nurse. 

"They're always busy." 

A psychiatrist?  

"Father," Roland recalled his son saying, "I'm lucky if I see my psychiatrist every two weeks." 

"That broke my heart," the father said. 

Roland tried to boost Martin's spirits and felt hopeful when Martin asked for more books and sneakers for exercise.

"I felt I was going to leave Martin in peace and he would go to bed," he said. 

The next morning, Martin's psychiatrist called the family to say he had been found dead.  

"So that was a tragedy that was very, very hard to take," Roland said. "I couldn't understand."

Marie-Hélène Michaud, Rosemonde Godin and Marc-André Michaud say they were hopeful in the days before Martin Michaud died. (Jonna Brewer/CBC)

There's a lot Martin's family doesn't understand.

According to the coroner's report obtained by Radio-Canada/CBC News, there are routine checks in Martin's unit when patients are sleeping. The last check was 5:39 a.m. on Feb. 9.

Roland Michaud wants to know why no other checks were done until 8:45 a.m., when Martin's body was discovered. 

"They missed that shift. If they hadn't, maybe Martin would be with us."

Night staff are required to do rounds and check on each patient to ensure they are secure and conscious every hour during their shift, according to the ombud's report released two days before Martin's death. 

Records obtained by Radio-Canada indicate there were enough staff on duty the night he died. However, the records show staffing levels dropping below what's required at several points while he was in the hospital. 

A report by provincial ombud Charles Murray says there has been 'significant mistreatment' of patients at Restigouche Hospital Centre. (Nicolas Steinbach/Radio-Canada)

Charles Murray, the province's ombud, said the hospital was in crisis when he released his report in February. The hospital was unable to build a critical mass of psychiatric expertise among the staff, and some clinicians "seem to be providing very little care, according to the institution's records."

One patient, identified as "Patient A," died of an infection after not having their vital signs monitored closely, the report states. In that patient's case, too, according to Murray's report, the last round of checks was done at 6:07 a.m. The patient was found dead at 8 a.m.

This week, Murray said conditions haven't significantly changed after six months. He said it would be a mistake to assume the institution is now running properly.

"There have been small improvements in some areas, but not the sort of fundamental changes which I think our report called for," Murray said in an interview.

Despite a recommendation by an independent expert to hire six or seven additional psychologists, Murray said that to his knowledge, none of the roles have been filled. 

Roland Michaud said Martin's death serves as a tough lesson for him.

"The main thing we can learn from that is not to rely on that hospital," he said. "And the staff that works there. I don't say that they're all bad people. But they don't have enough staff. And. It's so important to have enough staff. To give more attention to the patients."

"We didn't personally decide to put him there," said Marie-Hélène Michaud, Martin's sister. "I mean he ended up there. It was their job to take care of him and unfortunately the care failed."

"He just felt despair and lost hope."

The Restigouche Hospital Centre is New Brunswick's psychiatric hospital. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The family has had no direct contact with hospital administrators or the Vitalité Health Network, which operates the hospital.

Marie-Hélène Michaud said condolences or an offer to talk about Martin his care would help the healing process, help fill in the blanks.

She would also like to know what lessons health care officials have learned from the report and her brother's death.

'Are things just going to continue on?'

"I would love to see where they're going from here," Marie-Hélène Michaud said.

"If there is any change happening you know, what's the plan and what's your plan. Or is it just a very unfortunate passing, our brother, and things are just going to continue on? I'm not sure. I don't know."

CBC requested an interview with Vitalité CEO Gilles Lanteigne but was told he was unavailable. The same response was provided to repeated requests to interview Health Minister Ted Flemming.

With files from Nicolas Steinbach and Shane Magee