Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Hospital investigation alleges patient abuse

The mother of a 31-year-old Nova Scotia Hospital patient says she intends to call police after a report by a Health Department investigator alleged her son was restrained for two hours, his head covered, and that one staff member wondered aloud "if his s**t is retarded."

Matthew Meisner restrained for two hours, called profanities, according to Health Department investigation

Matthew Meisner has a severe form of autism and a mood disorder, which makes his behaviour aggressive and unpredictable. (Tracey Meisner)

The mother of a 31-year-old Nova Scotia Hospital patient says she intends to call police after a report by a Health Department investigator alleged her son was restrained for two hours, his head covered, and that one staff member wondered aloud "if his s**t is retarded."

The investigation into the Sept. 3 incident at Emerald Hall, a locked unit at the hospital, is based on the patient chart for Matthew Meisner, and alleges mistreatment and the use of physical force against him.

"You're never prepared to read something as graphic and as horrible as what happened to my son during that night shift," Tracey Meisner, Matthew's mother, told CBC News. 

Meisner has a severe form of autism and a mood disorder, which makes his behaviour aggressive and unpredictable. He wears a helmet to protect his skull when he bangs his head on walls.

Covered in feces, head bleeding

A "summary of facts" compiled by a Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness investigation officer was sent recently by the department to Meisner's family.

The report said the head of the night shift heard banging coming from Meisner's room at about 4:40 a.m. His bathroom had been locked to prevent him from banging the toilet seat and waking up other patients. Meisner was found naked, covered in feces, and banging his head and hands on Plexiglas, the report said. His head was bleeding.

Three security guards and two workers from the unit restrained Meisner in a time-out chair. He was in the chair for about two hours, the report said, even though the hospital's emergency restraint chair policy says it should not be used for more than an hour, unless the patient is assessed by a doctor. A physician may order the use of the chair extended, but it cannot exceed two hours.

Restrained, head covered with pillowcase

The report said the worker in charge of the night shift denied covering Meisner's head, but their own notes suggest otherwise.

"The person implicated documented that the patient was spitting and the face had to be covered by a pillowcase to clean and assess the patient," the report said.

A towel was placed over his mouth "in order to prevent the person implicated from being spit on while they cleaned the patients [sic] head wound," the report said.

Profanities and disparaging remarks

The report also said two witnesses "consistently reported that the person implicated commented 'that little f***er' and 'I wonder if his s**t is retarded.'" The comments were made within earshot of Meisner, the report said.

Tracey Meisner plans to call police about her son's treatment at the Nova Scotia Hospital. (CBC)

One witness and the staff worker under investigation denied making the comments.

The investigation was triggered by a day shift staff member at the hospital who filed a "serious incident report" when they learned about the incident. The complaint is being investigated under the Protection for Persons in Care Act.

Tracey Meisner received the report two weeks ago. She said she believes the person being investigated is a nurse, and called the treatment her son allegedly received part of a "culture of abuse" where staff act like thugs.

'Horrific abuse'

She said she's upset to read that her son's care plan was not followed by staff.

And she's distressed but not surprised to read about the profanities her son would have heard. Matthew Meisner has a condition called echolailic, which causes him to repeat phrases, and his mother said he's said similar things.

"'You can stay in your pissy clothes, you little c*** sucker, what are you deaf, are you deaf,' things of that nature," she said.

Advocating Parents of Nova Scotia, a group representing parents of children with intellectual or behavioural disabilities, called it "torture" and "horrific abuse."

The group said it supports Tracey's Meisner's demand that her son be moved closer to his family in Blandford on Nova Scotia's South Shore.

Health authority responds

Tracey Meisner has complained in the past about her son's care at Emerald Hall over the last 12 years, which she said has led to acrimonious relations with hospital staff. 

The NSGEU, the union representing staff at Nova Scotia Hospital, declined comment.

In a statement to CBC News, the Nova Scotia Health Authority said it takes any allegations of abuse extremely seriously and is committed to providing safe, high quality and respectful care possible for all of its patients, in all its environments, including Emerald Hall.

The health authority did not say whether anybody has been disciplined or fired, or what happens now with investigation.

The authority said it has an abuse prevention and response policy and does require that any and all allegations of abuse be reported to the Department of Health and Wellness under the Protection of Persons in Care Act.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.

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