Health minister says information being gathered

Did local mental health services fail Lionel Desmond and his family?

By Helen Murphy    

GUYSBOROUGH – Relatives of Lionel Desmond say the former soldier who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sought help at St. Martha’s hospital in Antigonish the day before he shot his wife, their daughter and his mother at the family home in Upper Big Tracadie, Jan. 3. They say Desmond was turned away by the hospital, either because there were no beds available or because the hospital did not have his file.

In response to growing concerns about how Desmond may have been received and served at St. Martha’s, Health Minister Leo Glavine said, “The Department of Health and Wellness and the Nova Scotia Health Authority are gathering information internally so we have a better understanding of what may or may not have happened. We are also reaching out to Veteran’s Affairs.”

The minister cautioned against prematurely coming to conclusions. “We have to be careful not to draw any conclusions without having all of the information. Once we have a clearer picture of what happened, we will look at what can be learned and whether there are things we should be doing differently, or ways to improve.”

Glavine said he continues to be in communication with Dr. Lind Courey, senior director of mental health and addictions with the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA). “While we continue to work with the NSHA to find out more, we are bound by privacy legislation and cannot provide personal details.”

In a statement, the NSHA said, “We do not turn away anyone who requires admission as assessed by a psychiatrist. If there are no local beds, a bed is found elsewhere.” The health authority noted that St. Martha’s consistently has capacity for inpatient admissions if required.

“The Department of Health and Wellness and the Nova Scotia Health Authority are working together to gather information to better understand the facts,” a department spokesperson said Tuesday. “The department is also reaching out to Veteran’s Affairs to see what can be learned from this tragedy and whether there are ways to improve or do things differently.”

St. Martha’s Mental Health Inpatient Unit has 10 beds for patients 16 and over who require hospitalization for mental health issues. According to the NSHA, St. Martha’s provides emergency/crisis service for mental health issues to all ages weekdays and after hours through the emergency department.

Residents who feel they require support in the wake of this tragedy are welcome to call NSHA’s province-wide Mental Health Crisis Line, which is accessible 24/7 by calling 1-888-429-8167.