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Woman with intellectual disability details 15-year quest for release from N.S. hospital

John Walter Thompson chairs a Nova Scotia human rights board of inquiry dealing with persons with disabilities and their attempts to move out of institutions and into small homes, in Halifax on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. .
John Walter Thompson chairs a Nova Scotia human rights board of inquiry dealing with persons with disabilities and their attempts to move out of institutions and into small homes, in Halifax on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. . Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

A woman with intellectual disabilities who languished for 15 years in a Nova Scotia psychiatric ward testified Tuesday that a plan to house her in the community was repeatedly set aside.

Beth MacLean told a human rights inquiry that caregivers at the Nova Scotia Hospital in Halifax were aware she could be moved into a smaller home one year after her admission in the fall of 2000.

Instead, she was transferred to a more restricted, acute-care unit in the same hospital, almost seven years later.

“I was supposed to (leave) after one year, and they kept me longer,” said MacLean, who has a speech impediment.

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READ MORE: People with disabilities stuck in Nova Scotia hospital for years

MacLean’s words were repeated to the chairman of the inquiry by her advocate and former social worker, Jo-Anne Pushie, who sat beside her as she testified.

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“I told them. They wouldn’t listen to me,” said MacLean.

The 46-year-old said she remained in a locked ward where she seldom left her room.

“I did not like Emerald Hall … It was a shithole,” she said under questioning from her lawyer, Vince Calderhead, who helped launch the human rights complaint in 2014.

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She was eventually transferred to a smaller facility in Halifax in 2016.

The inquiry is considering whether MacLean’s human rights, along with those of 45-year-old Joseph Delaney, were breached when the province refused to move them from hospital-like settings into small homes where assistance is provided for meals, mental health and other care.

The complaint includes the story of Sheila Livingstone, a woman in her late 60s who died after being transferred to a facility in Yarmouth – 300 kilometres from her family – more than a decade after she was placed in the Nova Scotia Hospital.

As for MacLean’s case, she was first housed by the province at the Kings Residential Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville, N.S., when she was 14.

She told the inquiry that as the years passed, she felt her freedom was too restricted.

MacLean also recalled visiting a so-called small-options home, saying this was the kind of home she had longed for.

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WATCH: Disability advocates say housing for those with intellectual disabilities is in crisis

Disability advocates say housing for those with intellectual disabilities is in crisis
Disability advocates say housing for those with intellectual disabilities is in crisis

According to her original complaint, MacLean was admitted to the Halifax-area hospital in October 2000 after she assaulted a staff person at the rehabilitation centre. She said the outburst stemmed from her frustration with having been stuck there since 1986.

The inquiry also heard from Tammy Delaney, the sister of Joey Delaney, who is unable to testify due to difficulties speaking.

She recalled how some of the happiest years of her brother’s life were spent at a small-options home in Dartmouth, N.S., where he had his own bedroom.

“It was like a home …They would make coffee … and they threw birthdays and had Christmas and Easter gatherings,” she said.

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However, an illness forced Joey Delaney into a hospital in 2010. He was later taken to live at the Nova Scotia Hospital.

Delaney cried as she recalled how her brother would make gestures indicating he wanted to leave.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia argues that supported housing for disabled is not a right

Under cross examination by Dorianne Mullin, a lawyer representing the province, Tammy Delaney was asked if she was aware that her brother had shown aggressive behaviours while at the small-options home.

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Tammy Delaney said she was unaware of that report.

She testified that she recently received word the province had found him a spot in small-options home.

Olga Cain, the sister of Sheila Livingstone, testified that her younger sister had been happy at a small-options home, where she lived until 2004.

However, a worsening psychiatric condition resulted in her transfer to Emerald Hall, where she lived until shortly after the human rights case was launched.

Cain said if her sister had the financial means, she would have moved out of the hospital.

“If people are poor and mentally challenged, they don’t have any rights,” Cain said. “They’re put in hospital and they stay there.”