'Heartbreaking': Sask. NDP says province should review Steven Rigby's mental health care
Case highlights need for more mental health beds, says Opposition Leader Ryan Meili
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili says the provincial government should review the case of a suicidal man who was discharged from a Saskatoon mental health hospital and then died two days later in an altercation with police.
"It's a really heartbreaking story," Meili said.
On Dec. 19, 2018, Steven Rigby was committed to Saskatoon's Irene and Leslie Dubé Centre for Mental Health because his family was concerned about a previous suicide attempt and a recent threat to commit suicide by cop.
He reportedly appeared calm when he was discharged the next day after declining a further voluntary stay.
Two days after that, on Dec. 22, Rigby died after a police involved shooting on the outskirts of Saskatoon.
His mother, Carey Rigby-Wilcox, says he should not have been discharged, given his history of suidical behaviour. On Tuesday, she publicly named her son for the first time as the man who died in the shooting.
"We should not be letting someone who, less than a couple of days before, had been committed because of high suicide risk, out on the street," Meili said Wednesday. "Clearly, that is below the standard of care that he should have been receiving."
Meili said a government review of Rigby's treatment path should come with public recommendations. This would come on top of a public coroner's inquest. An inquest has not yet been announced, but Rigby's family has said they are hoping to see one.
"[He] had asked for help in so many ways and wound up not getting the help he needed and is no longer with us as a result," Meili added. "I feel for the family, I feel for him."
Meeting with the family
Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health offered its condolences to Rigby's family Wednesday, calling his death a "tragic loss."
"We are meeting with [the family] in the coming days to learn more about their experience and we look forward to hearing their ideas for possible improvements," the ministry said in an emailed statement.
Meili has some ideas.
"Something that would make a big difference is having a dedicated mental health emergency stream," he said. "There was a mental health assessment unit that was functioning for a while at Royal University Hospital [in Saskatoon]. It's since been closed down but that was a very welcome effort."
The Saskatchewan Health Authority has said it will soon open a six-bed "Mental Health Short Stay Unit, under psychiatry care," at RUH.
Meili said that will only go so far.
"It'll be full in moments," he said. "And it really doesn't address the necessary dedicated emergency care — having a dedicated stream for folks struggling with mental health and addictions to get appropriate, timely care."
The Saskatchewan NDP has raised concerns about the 54-bed Dubé Centre before. In July 2018 — five months before Rigby was committed there — the NDP said the mental health centre had been over capacity for years.
In a tweet referencing Rigby earlier this week, Meili again touched on the need for more mental health beds in the province.
"[Staff] said, 'We have people that have no family support like you, that are on meth, that actually are worse off than you that need this bed. Are you willing to give your bed up?'" according to Rigby-Wilcox.<br><br>"Steven told me, 'Mom, what was I supposed to say?"—@ryanmeili
"[Rigby] was forced to make an impossible choice to keep a bed or give it up for somebody else who maybe didn't have the same [family] supports he did," Meili said. "But clearly he still needed it. And it's an impossible choice for him but also an impossible choice for the staff."
Pressure on police
According to a police press release issued the day after Rigby's death, he was armed and threatening both himself and officers during the altercation with officers.
"[Saskatoon police] and RCMP members encountered [Rigby], who refused to comply with officer commands and fired his gun," according to the statement. "Officers perceived a threat and engaged."
Rigby was pronounced dead in hospital.
Dean Pringle, the president of the Saskatoon Police Association, said officers are coming into contact more and more with people with addictions and mental health issues.
"Policing is increasingly taking on responsibilities that traditionally other providers and sectors took care of," he said.
"We deal with people in various types of distress all the time in patrol. This time it was mental health distress, and our members are very capable."
If an inquest is called, he said, "there are certainly some questions that will be addressed at the inquest, regarding the mental health system in Saskatchewan."
If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, help is available.
For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911.
You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 by calling 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645, or chatting online.
You can contact the Regina mobile crisis services suicide line at 306-525-5333 or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.
You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.
Kids Help Phone can also be reached at 1-800-668-6868, or you can access live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.