New Brunswick

Fathers worry their sons aren't safe at Restigouche Hospital Centre

Reid Smith and Darrell Tidd are concerned about under-staffing and over-medication at the Restigouche Hospital Centre, where both their sons have been long-term patients.

Reid Smith and Darrell Tidd are concerned about understaffing and over-medication at the hospital

Reid Smith worries about whether his son, Aaron, is safe at the Restigouche Hospital Centre. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Reid Smith doesn't believe his son is safe at the Restigouche Hospital Centre.

On two occasions, Smith said his 34-year-old son, Aaron, fell unconscious in the cafeteria because he was over-medicated.

He's been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome as well as anxiety issues and ADHD.

The Moncton father had his son evaluated by an independent psychiatrist, who found Aaron was on "a dangerously high level of medications," according to Smith.

"It took me to make some phone calls to make sure he was properly followed up and monitored."

After his calls, Smith said Aaron's medications were reduced. Once that happened, Aaron seemed less lethargic and his speech was clearer.

Reid Smith's 34-year-old son, Aaron, has been at Restigouche Hospital Centre since 2013. (Submitted by Reid Smith)

Smith is one of two fathers of patients at the Campbellton mental health hospital who are raising alarm bells about the treatment of patients.

Both fathers said they've seen signs of understaffing and over-medication.

Neither blamed the staff at the hospital for the issues they've encountered, but said the problems at Restigouche are symptoms of what ails the province's entire mental health care system.

"It's on my mind every day, from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep," said Darrell Tidd, whose 25-year-old son, Devan, has been cycling between group homes and Restigouche for the past seven years.

Scathing report highlighted major problems

RCMP, the coroner and Vitalité Health Network are all investigating after a 38-year-old man died at the hospital over the weekend. It's not yet clear how he died.

It happened just two days after the release of an investigation by ombud Charles Murray that revealed patients at Restigouche have been victims of "mistreatment and inadequate care."

Murray's report gave several examples of problems with the continuance of care, including a "lack of regularized assessment and detailed care plans" for patients, as well as alleged abuse.

In at least one case, the ombud believes the gaps at the hospital "may have resulted in the premature death of a patient" in 2018.

In his report, Murray said the problems stem from chronic understaffing, something both Smith and Tidd say they've seen first-hand.

The hospital is safe and has always been staffed above levels required for patient safety, Vitalité Health Network CEO Gilles Lanteigne said Tuesday.

Gilles Lanteigne, president and CEO of Vitalité Health Network, says families who have concerns about care should contact the health network. (Radio-Canada)

The ombud doesn't share that view.

"I said last Thursday that I can't say with confidence that patients and staff are safe there," Murray said Tuesday. "That's still my position today."

Later in the day, when asked about Tidd and Smith's stories, Lanteigne said he can't comment on individual cases. He suggested the families contact the health network directly to look into their concerns.

'Lack of resources'

Smith said his son has called him saying he was sick but couldn't get any medical attention.

He said his son's unit doesn't have a nurse on staff after 8 p.m., relying on nurses from another part of the hospital.

"They've been doing the best they can," he said.

"I've gotten along with the staff. But there's only so much they can do with the lack of resources that they have."

Two fathers are concerned about the state of the province's mental health care system, following a report about serious problems at the Restigouche Hospital Centre in Campbellton. (Radio-Canada)

Aaron had thousands of dollars worth of dental work done before he was admitted to Restigouche in August 2013.

Since then, Aaron's teeth have "deteriorated drastically" and several of his teeth have been extracted instead of receiving fillings, according to his father.

Smith said he provided an insurance card to cover any dental procedures his son might need but said the hospital has never used it.

Son waited months for placement

Tidd said Devan is a "high-functioning autistic" man who also struggles with anxiety and anger.

For the past seven years, he's been caught in a "vicious cycle," where he's sent back to Restigouche each time he has an incident with anger and the residential care facility can't care for him.

In one instance, Devan waited four years for a bed at a Saint John special care home that was supposed to provide one-on-one care. But the placement only lasted a few months.

"They don't have people that are properly trained to handle those types of situations," Tidd said.

"That's in no way a slight at the people who are working in the field right now. It's just factual information."

Devan, who loves NASCAR and the Toronto Maple Leafs, wants to be in the community.

Devan Tidd wants to live in the community but hasn't been able to find a placement to suit his needs. (Submitted by Darrell Tidd)

But the system hasn't got a place for him.

"He doesn't want to be, for lack of a better word, institutionalized," his father said.

Smith's son also wants to live in the community. The family has been waiting six months to get Aaron into a home that has agreed to take on his "extraordinary" needs, which would let him leave the hospital where he's lived for the past six years.

But there's no guarantee it will be a good fit.

"The worry that I have is by him being there for so long, is that he has become — and I hate to use that word — institutionalized," Smith said.

Fathers want change

Both fathers would like to see the provincial government take immediate action following Murray's report, reforming the system to make it easier for their sons to live in the community. They don't want to see another report or review.

Darrell Tidd worries about the care his son, Devan, is receiving at the Restigouche hospital. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Both said their sons have been feeling anxious since the release of the ombud's report and, more recently, the death of a patient.

Devan lived in the same unit as the man who died. Tidd said he can tell his son has been heavily medicated, after speaking on the phone with him on Sunday.

"You can tell when there's going to be a decline that's going to occur," Tidd said.

"I really got that feeling [Sunday] afternoon when I was talking to him."

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.

With files from Radio-Canada