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Family never wanted officers waiting with mental-health patients

“Don’t worry Dad. These nice security guards will be with you and stay with you.” These were the last words Helen said to her father when she was asked to leave his treatment room at the Royal Jubilee Hospital emergency department in 1995.
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The entrance to Royal Jubilee Hospital’s emergency room was blocked by police tape and security guards on Monday after officers shot a man brandishing a weapon at the ER. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

“Don’t worry Dad. These nice security guards will be with you and stay with you.”

These were the last words Helen said to her father when she was asked to leave his treatment room at the Royal Jubilee Hospital emergency department in 1995.

Her father, a retired physician, was upset and possibly suicidal, said Helen, who has requested anonymity.

Police brought him to the hospital, then left him in the charge of the hospital and the security guards, she said Friday. Helen and her mother were asked to leave. A doctor was going to examine her father.

Helen assured her father everything would be OK. The security guards would stay with him.

“But they didn’t stay with him. They left him alone and he managed to hang himself with his pyjamas on the doorknob. We got a call 15 minutes later that he was in a coma. That was a huge shock.”

Helen’s father suffered a severe brain injury and was left severely disabled. He never walked again. Her family launched a civil suit against the hospital and the province and won a substantial settlement.

“We won because it was pretty bad. They did leave him. It was total negligence,” said Helen.

After her father’s suicide attempt, the provincial government stripped hospital security guards of their peace-officer status. This has left Victoria police officers waiting — sometimes for hours — to hand over people who have been apprehended under the Mental Health Act as a danger to themselves or others.

Last week, Victoria city Coun. Stephen Andrew brought the issue before council. He wants the provincial government to reinstate special constable status for hospital security guards so they can take custody of patients upon arrival and let officers get back to their regular duties.

Council approved a motion recommending the mayor write to the provincial government and Island Health requesting special constable status for hospital security staff, provided they are given sufficient training.

Victoria police apprehended 676 people under the Mental Health Act last year and spent more than 1,000 hours waiting with them at Royal Jubilee Hospital.

Helen said her family never asked for police officers to be at the hospital all the time as part of their settlement.

“Having police at the hospital now is causing huge problems and they’re blaming it on the incident with my father, but that is not correct,” she said.

“We asked that people shouldn’t be left alone. It doesn’t need to be the police staying there for hours and hours and hours. It just needs to be somebody who is trained and kind and compassionate. There might be some people the police need to stay with, but I don’t think that’s most people.”

Taking police officers away from their regular duties to babysit patients in the hospital is compounding the tragedy of her father’s suicide attempt, she said.

“My father had been a doctor. We trusted his colleagues to take care of him and the whole system let him down horribly,” Helen said. “It was bad.”

After the lawsuit, doorknobs were removed from the emergency department so people couldn’t use them to hang themselves, she said.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

— With a file from Lindsay Kines