Woman wants answers after her mother wanders away from Cape Breton hospital
Police picked up Lisa Fitzgerald's mother about 25 minutes later
A Cape Breton woman wants the Nova Scotia Health Authority to explain how her elderly mother was able to wander away from the Cape Breton Regional Hospital a week ago.
Lisa Fitzgerald said she brought her mother Diana, 77, to the emergency department on Nov. 28. She noticed her mother appeared to be confused and hallucinating.
She said her mother stayed on a stretcher in the emergency room for two days and no doctor assessed her during that time.
Just after 6 a.m. last Saturday, the hospital called Fitzgerald to tell her that her mother had left the ER through the ambulance bay doors.
Picked up by police
She was told her mother had been picked up by police a short time later and returned to the hospital.
"I don't know exactly where she was found," said Fitzgerald. "I found out afterwards that she was missing for approximately 25 minutes and that she was so cold that they couldn't get a temperature on her."
Fitzgerald said she has contacted managers at the hospital but hasn't received an explanation.
She believes the outcome could have been much worse had police not located her mother quickly.
'Breaks my heart'
"It just breaks my heart," she said. "I left her there because I was concerned for her safety. And she needed help."
Fitzgerald said her mother has since been admitted to the regional hospital, someone has been assigned to sit with her around the clock.
"I think they're just paying attention to her now because of what happened, and then hoping that it just gets swept under the rug," Fitzgerald said.
The chief of emergency medicine for the eastern zone of the Nova Scotia Health Authority said he can't speak about a specific case.
But Dr. Chris Milburn said ER staff cannot hold people against their will.
'We're not police'
"We're not police," he said. "We don't have locked doors."
He said patients are generally free to come and go.
He said on occasion, when people deemed a risk to themselves to leave the ER, the police are called to help bring them back.
"Our first step is we try to keep them there by verbally encouraging them to stay," said Milburn. "In the vast majority of cases that's actually successful."
But he said staff are neither trained, nor legally permitted, to restrain patients. "If that person is physically leaving, and we can't stop them in some kind of reasonable way, we have to call police."
The health authority said it couldn't talk about individual cases. But it said patient treatment and care depends on the person's condition and behaviour.
"That could include sitters, one-to-one care and regular monitoring. We also encourage families to visit and stay with their loved ones as much as possible," spokesperson Lauren MacDougall said via email.
Fitzgerald said she doesn't know the circumstances around how her mother left the hospital or whether anyone tried to stop her.
She said she is speaking out in the hopes the hospital will review what happened.
"Me and my mother are both very private people," she said. "And to have to go public about this, and speak about my mother's mental health? It shouldn't have to happen."
With files from the CBC's Gary Mansfield