Despres hearing reveals new details of changes at Shepody Healing Centre

Inmates currently occupying acute-level inpatient hospital beds at the Shepody Healing Centre could soon be sent to another facility.
Inmates currently occupying acute-level inpatient hospital beds at the Shepody Healing Centre could soon be sent to another facility. Correctional Service Canada

MONCTON – Last week’s review board hearing for Gregory Despres also revealed details of some of the changes happening at the Shepody Healing Centre in Dorchester, N.B.

Despres’ case was up for review after he was found not criminally responsible for the April, 2005 killings of Fred Fulton and Verna Decarie in Minto, NB.

The review board ordered that Despres to remain at Shepody, a maximum security facility inside the Dorchester Penitentiary, but will be reviewing his file again in six to eight months because of federal changes to the facility.

The federal government announced in February that it would be converting the centre’s acute-level hospital beds to intermediate care beds, which are for patients who don’t need hospital-level care.

NCR patients like Despres, who require hospital-level care, will be returned to provincial responsibility.

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These changes were supposed to take full effect on April 1, but the provincial and federal governments struck a deal to keep them at the facility until March 31, 2016, Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane confirmed to Global News.

READ MORE: Review board orders Despres to remain at Shepody for now

It is not clear where they will be housed after this date.

But Friday’s hearing revealed that some changes at the facility have been implemented.

Dr. Louis Thériault, the former chief of psychiatry, who is now working as a consulting psychiatrist at the facility, told the hearing psychiatric care has been reduced from five days a week to three days a week.

There are also only five nurses for the 40-bed facility, with only one nurse working in the evenings, he said.

Outside the courthouse, Dr. Thériault told reporters that the facility is split into two 20-bed wards, over two floors, meaning there is always one ward without any nursing staff overnight.

“It was mostly structured like a hospital before where there were nurses on both floors 24-hours a day,” he said. “Now they’re what they call ‘program-deliverers,’ so we barely have one nurse in the evening.”

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He said staff is trying to adjust to the new program and called the changes “significant.”

Dr. Thériault said he’s raised his concerns with the federal government and with Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney that very sick patients are not getting the access to the care they need in a timely manner.

Most notably because there is no longer a psychiatrist on-call, so they’re trying to manage with family doctors, Dr. Thériault said.

The changes in the level of care at the Shepody Healing Centre is also having an impact at other facilities in the province.

Previously, facilities like the Restigouche Hospital Centre in Campbellton would send high-risk patients to Shepody.

Now, there are questions about where these patients would go.

Mary Kennedy-Fulton, daughter-in-law of Fred Fulton, told reporters the federal changes are very concerning for her family.

“We have been advocating for I don’t know how long for Despres not to move,” she said. “In fact, we have until April of 2016 and then he may, in fact, be moving. This is not acceptable.”

The provincially-managed Restigouche Hospital Centre has been discussed as the most likely destination for Despres and three or four other NCR patients currently at Shepody, but there concerns about the security-level at Restigouche.

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“Bottom line is the federal government has to look at their responsibility. This is an election year. To really provide services to NCR people, not just to push it off on the provincial government and say you deal with it,” Kennedy-Fulton said.

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