New Brunswick

Province will act on recommended changes at psychiatric hospital, says health minister

An independent mental health expert hired by the New Brunswick government recommends keeping the Restigouche Hospital Centre open but accelerating changes to improve safety and services at the psychiatric facility.

Independent expert makes 4 recommendations to improve safety and services at Restigouche Hospital Centre

Health Minister Ted Flemming said the Restigouche Hospital Centre file is 'far from closed.' The department will diligently monitor the situation and 'adhere to the vision of goals' supporting vulnerable patients. (CBC)

An independent mental health expert hired by the New Brunswick government recommends keeping the Restigouche Hospital Centre open but accelerating changes to improve safety and services at the psychiatric facility.

Health Minister Ted Flemming tabled the report by George Weber in the legislature Wednesday, promising to act on all four of its recommendations.

It comes after a scathing report by the New Brunswick ombud in February revealed "significant mistreatment" of vulnerable patients with severe mental illnesses at the Campbellton hospital meant to be the provincial centre of excellence.  

Flemming did not commit to the consultant's recommendation to proceed with opening the new $14.4 million Provincial Youth Treatment Centre at the same location, however, saying only that it "will be taken under advisement."

Ombud Charles Murray had recommended cancelling the project.

No decision has been made, Flemming said, threatening to walk away from an interview when asked about it by reporters.

"It's important to get it right. And we're going to get it right, and do the right thing. And we're going to do it clinically, in the best interest of the young people and the youth that are in need.

"We're not going to be jammed and we're not going to be pushed and we're not going to be political."

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

Weber's recommendations for the adult facility operated by the Vitalité Health Network include: 

  • Develop a provincial treatment system framework of mental health and addiction care to identify gaps and measure outcomes and develop a provincial health bed capacity plan.
  • Discharge patients who no longer require tertiary-care services into programs that better meet their level of care needs.
  • Assign someone to monitor and ensure quality control of forensic assessments.
  • Develop competitive recruitment and retention strategies for "specific and essential" health-care professionals.

"The place was overextended," Flemming said. "It was bigger than the staff that was there. Staff were taxed to the limit."

Nearly a third of the beds — 40 of 140 — have already been closed so staff can focus on fewer patients, he said.

Weber, the former president and CEO of the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, also made six recommendations to Vitalité.

He will continue working with the Department of Health and the regional health authority through early 2020 to ensure that improvement plans are carried out as recommended.

Murray, whose findings prompted the recommendations, said the biggest victory is the government will keep the hospital accountable.

''They've had a plan before, they've had expert advice before, they've worked very hard on that before, but their results two and three years out weren't there," he said.

''That openness, that transparency fights against the culture of silence there and keeps the pressure on them.''

'Ongoing safety risk'

The government hired Weber in February after an investigation by Murray's office revealed there was "an ongoing safety risk to both patients and staff" at the centre. 

Flemming asked Weber to review Murray's report and to come up with recommendations within 90 days. Flemming also delayed the opening of the new youth mental health centre, which is almost fully built.

Murray said Wednesday he has received dozens of new complaints since his report. He plans to treat them individually, but if the problems continue beyond six months, he may file a second report, he said.

Provincial ombud Charles Murray delivered his report on the Restigouche Hospital Centre to the legislature's procedure, privileges and legislative officers committee on Feb. 7. (CBC)

Weber said although it's "taking time" to implement changes at the Restigouche Hospital Centre, "they have made good progress.

There is now a "realization by all involved that Simple Fixes Do Not Work Any More," he wrote in his 16-page report, dated April 27.

"The pace of implementation needs to be accelerated."

Youth centre plans 'reasonable'

Although Murray was concerned about understaffing at the youth centre, Weber concluded the plans "are reasonable." 

Current and future staffing requirements are, in many ways, in good shape at this stage," he said.

But People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin is not convinced Campbellton is the right place for the youth centre.

"There's a shortage across the province in a lot of these areas, but when you look at the north specifically, that's an issue," he said.  "And that's again why it should probably be in Moncton."

Flemming said he's consulting with ''local experts'' about the youth centre.

The ombud's investigation was prompted by an anonymous written complaint in 2017 alleging that patients at Restigouche were "victims of violence, negligence, verbal abuse, and excessive use of restraints and force by front-line staff."

He found the complaints were substantiated.

The $156 million Restigouche Hospital Centre opened in 2015.

With files from Gabrielle Fahmy

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