Another Nova Scotia family has come forward in a heartbreaking and desperate plea for help — hoping that by speaking out, the province will act.
“We need help,” Crystal Wyre said, sitting at her kitchen table in New Minas, N.S. “The system for mental health is broken, so we need that fixed.”
Her stepson Dakota Wyre, 15, has severe autism and is nonverbal. She said a year ago, a “switch flipped” and he became violent.
After two calls to 911 in one week, Dakota was admitted to the Garron Centre at the IWK children’s hospital in Halifax just before Christmas.
In order to get him to the hospital, Crystal says Dakota had to be sedated by paramedics.
But already, the family says the IWK wants to release Dakota back into their care — the Wyres say that is simply unsafe.
“It’s dangerous for him to be home,” Crystal said. “Somebody’s going to be injured, badly injured. It’s happened, Dakota has suffered injuries, we’ve suffered injuries and as much as we try to prevent them, they just happen.”
Crystal is calm as she details damage to walls (now covered by plexiglass) and shows her arms peppered in scars and scratches from Dakota’s unpredictable attacks. Crystal says her composure comes from having no other options, and not enough support.
“I can’t fall apart because Dakota needs me, my nine-year-old needs me, my husband needs me, so this is just how I deal with things. You just get on with it.”
Still — she and Dakota’s dad A.J. say the stress is constant. Especially when A.J. is at work and Crystal is alone at home with their sons.
“I’m at work worrying that something’s going to happen at the house and I’m not there,” A.J. said.
‘They’re releasing him without properly helping him’
Crystal said hospital staff want to discharge Dakota from the IWK because the Garron Centre isn’t an appropriate spot for him.
But she and A.J. say the centre has helped Dakota and when they visit him, they see the “old Dakota” again. They’re worried that he will be discharged from the hospital with no guarantees that the violence doesn’t return with him.
“They’re releasing him without properly helping him,” Crystal said, attributing his happiness in the Garron Centre to the space and “solitude” that he can’t get in a regular household.
No one from the IWK was available for an interview. But in an emailed statement, spokesperson Nick Cox said: “Admission decisions are medical decisions weighing risks and needs and most appropriate level of care.”
He added that if a patient is “doing well” in hospital, they are discharged with an outpatient plan made with the family’s involvement “to safely support the patient and family in the community.”
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If Dakota is discharged, the family says their options are to take him back home or put him into the care of the province. In the latter case, they say that would mean Dakota would temporarily live in a hotel under the care of government staff.
Crystal calls the options “horrible” but says between the two, they will bring Dakota back home. That will bring the family back to “square one,” A.J. said, adding that the cycle will repeat.
“You’ve got to think of a teenager who’s 15, with the mentality of a two- or three-year-old, with the strength of a 30-year-old and that combination is very dangerous,” A.J. said.
The family gets help from the province to pay for respite workers who look after Dakota while the parents run errands or take a break. But other than that, they say the only help Dakota got for his illness was from a provincial psychiatrist.
“We need more support for these kids, there’s almost nothing for them,” Crystal said. “There’s no place for them to go, especially with the severity of needs like Dakota has.”
Neither Health Minister Randy Delorey nor Community Services Minister Kelly Regan was available for an interview on Monday. Similarly, no provincial cabinet minister was available for an interview when the families of Callum Sutherland and Cuen Eng went public with their own stories of a lack of support.
However, their stories are what prompted A.J. and Crystal to come forward.
“We need to bring more light to this,” Crystal said. “There are other families suffering just like us.”
In an emailed statement, government spokesperson Tina Thibeau said, “We understand the challenges that parents of children with complex needs may experience and we are committed to working with and supporting those families.
“When providing services, we consider all circumstances to ensure individual needs are met,” her email adds. “In complex cases, the IWK health centre, the various care providers, and government departments tailor support to the needs of the family.”
In November, the province’s auditor general detailed significant gaps in mental health care, saying the 2012 mental health strategy was “poorly managed” and there were no plans to evaluate whether mental health care improved between 2012 and 2017.
Crystal says her message to the government is simple: “We need you to recognize that the system is broken and we need your help to fix it.”