Just a few days after Rhonda Clough’s son was released from Chilliwack General Hospital where he was brought by police, she says he walked into traffic on Highway 1 in what appears to be a suicide attempt.
Now Rhonda feels that the very healthcare system that is fixing his serious injuries is a system that also let him down when it came to the 34-year-old’s mental health.
“The system failed to protect my son,” Rhonda told The Chilliwack Progress. “This story needs to be told, not just for my son but for the many others like him in the mental health system that are denied dignity and treatment.”
For 15 years, he has suffered with bipolar disorder and addictions. He was most recently living on the streets in Chilliwack, deemed a danger to Rhonda by a mental health worker, and clearly suicidal, according to her.
After being brought to Chilliwack General Hospital by RCMP for behaving erratically, he was discharged and on Nov. 12 at about 6:30 p.m., he walked out on to Highway 1.
A white SUV narrowly missed him, but another vehicle did not. He was struck and seriously injured in the incident.
The next day, Nov. 13, before Rhonda got the call that her son was in hospital, she got a bit of good news. Interior Health had issued a Form 21, essentially a warrant for his arrest to be detained under the Mental Health Act.
“I was shedding tears of joy,” Rhonda said, knowing that he needed to be apprehended for his own good.
But it was a day too late.
Her son had been living for years in the Vernon and Salmon Arm area, but he was born and raised in Chilliwack. When he recently came back to town, Rhonda got a call from his mental health worker to warn her because he has violent tendencies when not medicated.
“It’s hard to see the child that you love and the mental illness that it turns him into,” she said. “I love my son. When [he] is on proper medication, he’s a good person. When he’s off medication, on drugs, he’s not.”
Rhonda said he had been arrested by the RCMP for behaving erratically. She thinks that was Sunday (Nov. 8). He was taken to Chilliwack General Hospital (CGH), but he was later released.
She had him over at her house, but she caught him smoking crystal meth on Wednesday (Nov. 11) morning. That was the last she saw of him until she found out he had been hit on the highway.
Given that he had been detained by Interior Health, and she was warned that he was coming to town, and that he has made suicidal statements in the past, Rhonda is confused as to why he was not forcibly detained at CGH under the Mental Health Act.
“If he was a danger to us, why was he allowed to be out anyways?” she asked. “I don’t understand why the hospital wouldn’t have kept him.”
Asked about the case, a spokesperson for Fraser Health said in part that “care for patients who have mental health and substance use issues is challenging.”
Often substance use can lead to mental health issues that subside when a patient is stabilized, the statement said.
“A person can be certified under the Mental Health Act and admitted involuntarily to hospital if a physician’s recommendation to do this is approved by the facility director or delegate,” senior public affairs consultant Dixon Tam said via email.
For a person to be involuntarily admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act, they must meet a number of criteria: The person has a mental disorder; the person requires treatment in a designated facility; the person requires care, supervision and control in a designated facility to prevent substantial mental or physical deterioration or protection of the person or others; and the person cannot be voluntarily admitted.
A person can then be discharged when they no longer meet the four involuntary admission criteria.
“In all cases like this, we discuss a discharge plan with the patient prior to their discharge that includes topics such as follow-up appointments in the community, transportation, and notification of family members,” Tam said. “We can confirm a discharge plan was discussed in this case.”
But that discharge plan was not discussed with Rhonda, presumably because he is an adult and not in her care.
“I was not notified by Chilliwack General Hospital about any discharge,” Rhonda said. “As far as I know there was no discharge plan discussed with me and as far as I understand no other family members were notified either. I was, however, notified by Interior Health days prior that he was coming to Chilliwack and that he was a danger to me and to not let him in my home.”
One of her unanswered questions is that if he was out of the psychiatric unit in Interior Health and was breaking conditions, as she understands he was, and if he was considered violent, why is that not considered a danger to the public?
“Also my son had expressed to me on the Monday prior to his suicide attempt that he had told the psychiatrist at CGH, or whomever did his assessment, that he was suicidal. I was astounded that they did not keep him.”
For Rhonda and for her son, the Form 21 apprehension came, but it was a day too late. Rhonda is now trying to be at his side in hospital when she can, hoping he will recover, albeit with serious permanent injuries.
She insists there was negligence in this case, and she wanted to share the story in the hopes that something like this can be prevented from happening to others.
“A lot of families like to keep it in,” Rhonda said. “I’m not ashamed. It’s an illness that failed to be treated.
“He is not his illness.”
As for the incident on the highway, Rhonda said her son suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that leads to blindness, but she said he wouldn’t have walked onto the highway by accident.
The driver who struck him co-operated with police, but RCMP Traffic are still looking for the driver and/or occupants of a white SUV that narrowly missed him that day. On Dec. 12, Const. John Rice with Fraser Valley Traffic Services (FVTS) said the witness had still not come forward and they would like to speak to him or her.
Anyone with information who has yet to speak with a police officer, is asked to call FVTS in Chilliwack at 604-702-4039, citing file 2020-47970.
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