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Patients of Kingston, Ont., doctor accused of sexual assault tell of alleged psychiatric abuse

Click to play video: 'Several former patients of a Kingston psychiatrist allege that under her care, they were emotionally abused' Several former patients of a Kingston psychiatrist allege that under her care, they were emotionally abused
Several former patients of a Kingston psychiatrist allege that they were emotionally abused under her care – May 25, 2021

Several people have come forward to speak out against a former Kingston, Ont., child psychiatrist facing sex-related offences involving a minor.

Although they had no experiences of sexual misconduct with the doctor, they describe their time with her as traumatizing, so much so that several patients claim they developed worse psychiatric issues and shied away from care in the future, leading, at times, to disastrous outcomes.

Read more: Ontario government looking to improve sexual violence policies at universities, colleges

In December, 2020, Dr. Nasreen Roberts, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Kingston Health Sciences Centre and with Queen’s University, was charged with historic sexual assault and sexual exploitation for an alleged incident that took place in Banff, Alta., between September 1993 and September 1994.

Queen’s said Roberts was division chair for child psychiatry at the school from 2009 to 2015. Kingston Health Sciences Centre said Roberts “was a member of the clinical care team within Kingston Health Sciences Centre’s child and youth mental health program.” The hospital organization did not give a timeframe for her period of employment, despite being asked.

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The news of her charges only surfaced in early May, but sparked an outcry from several of her former patients and parents of those patients who say they experienced other forms of abuse under her care.

Roberts did not provide comment for this story.

“Doctor-patient confidentiality and doctor privacy obligations prevent Dr. Roberts from participating in any interview or making comment to the media at this time,” said Jennifer Ruttan, who is currently representing Roberts for her criminal charges.

Now that Roberts is facing charges, those who spoke with Global News they say want to know why their complaints about Roberts seemingly went unheard.

Parents’ experiences

Ann Stewart’s son Aidan died by suicide in 2017.

“One of the last things he said to me in the days before he died was, ‘You left me with her,’ so I get to live with that,” Stewart said.

Aidan was seven when admitted for his extreme anxiety to Hotel Dieu’s child in-patient psychiatric ward run by Roberts.

“She told Aidan right to his face, a seven-year-old, that he was never going to amount to anything, that he was always going to be a burden on me,” Stewart said.

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She said Roberts put him on various medications, and that the month he spent in the ward was, at times, like torture.

“He was taken back to the hospital, put in a room with only a mattress for 24 hours. The staff was directed to not speak to him, to just give him his meals and check on him,” Stewart said.

This was not uncommon in Roberts’ ward, according to former patients and their parents.

“He was put in a seclusion room, and if he didn’t calm down quickly enough, they would turn the lights off and sometimes he would be in there for a few hours,” said Talena Beaupre, whose son, Rhys Beaupre, was eight when he was admitted to the same ward about a decade ago.

At a young age, Rhys was diagnosed high-functioning autism, ADHD and language disorders, which caused emotional disorders.

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“When he felt anything intense, positive or negative, he would become extremely violent,” Beaupre said. That violence was mostly directed at her. New to Kingston, she and her husband felt desperate for help. Help she says they did not get under Roberts’ care.

“They stripped him of everything, like all items in the room, left him with nothing but a mattress on the floor, and that’s where he had to spend time,” she said.

Read more: Nova Scotia therapist charged with sexually assaulting his female patient

Eventually, after almost two months held in the psychiatric ward, with one of those weeks completely isolated from his parents, Beaupre said her son was released.

“They just simply said, ‘There’s nothing more that we can do,'” Beaupre said.

Rhys came back not only angry, but now vicious and suicidal, Beaupre said.

“Having an eight-year-old come to me and say, ‘I don’t want to feel this anymore, I’m going to go drink bleach,’ and then following into the laundry room as he tries to grab the bottle and having to fight it from him,'” she said.

Both Stewart and Beaupre said that Roberts also belittled them and their ability to care for their children, and threatened both mothers to call the Children’s Aid Society to take the boys away.

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“As a parent, that’s terrifying,” Beaupre said.

Both women say they complained to Hotel Dieu about Roberts, but were brushed off.

I complained at least twice,” Stewart said.

Despite doubting the doctor’s methods, Beaupre said she was told she had no other options.

Read more: Emotional abuse isn’t always obvious: ‘You start to think something is wrong with you’

“When you’re desperate, what are you supposed to do? You have a child that wants to die and then you’re presented with this doctor that wasn’t very kind in the first place. So what’s the lesser of two evils,” Beaupre said.

Beaupre says she and her family felt so abandoned by the local hospital system that they took extreme measures, going on the Dr. Phil show to seek help.

“We made ourselves incredibly vulnerable, telling very, very personal details of our family very publicly. It took a lot of nastiness from people that had watched comparing my son to Charles Manson,” she said.

Still, she said she would do it again, since the show gave them more tools to work with than any local options.

Although Beaupre said the Dr. Phil show helped, her son dealt with serious trauma from his time under Roberts’ care, including not being able to sleep in the dark for years afterwards, and not being able to step foot in Hotel Dieu Hospital. He also harboured anger towards his mother for putting him under Roberts’ care.

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“The prospect of ever being hospitalized again is like a fear factor for him, even when it comes to suicidal ideations and actually developing a plan, we have to remind him it’s not a punishment,” she said.

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As for Stewart, she was desperate to connect with another doctor, but she, too, said she was told that Roberts was the only option.

Finally, after years, she was able to take Aidan out of Roberts’ care.

“Eventually, I was heard and we got a different doctor, but that was three or four years later, and by that time the damage was done.”

When things took a turn for the worse, Stewart said she could not convince Aidan to get help.

“He refused to see anybody after that, and unfortunately, he took his own life in 2017,” she said.

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The patients

Susannah and Tyler Potvin met in 2007 under Roberts’ care in the in-patient psychiatric ward, when they were 14 and 15 years of age, respectively. They, too, said they never experienced any sexual abuse, but said their time with Roberts was life-changing.

“It’s a different type of abuse that we endured, but it was significantly traumatic,” they said, at one point, in unison.

The young couple often speaks in tandem or finishes each other’s sentences. It’s a sign of their closeness, a bond they say was solidified while being treated by Roberts. They call it “trauma bonding.”

Read more: Intergenerational trauma is ‘pain’ passed down generations, hurting Black people’s health

“Trauma bonding would be when a group — or it could be two or more people — experience the same kind of trauma and it is so significant and so powerful that it bonds you together,” said Susannah.

Tyler described Roberts as cold, narcissistic and callous. He claims she told him he was choosing to be mentally ill, but then put him on medication that made his mental illnesses worse.

“Any kind of concerns that any of the children had or the parents even were dismissed or marked off as just another symptom of mental health,” he said.

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Susannah too said the blame was put on her for her own mental health problems. She says she would then be simply given prescriptions for strong drugs, and if things didn’t improve, she was ordered back into Roberts’ psychiatric ward.

“She gave you a medication, but she didn’t give you a solution. She didn’t investigate. And I believe that there were so many kids, children, whose brains were still developing that were given medication that didn’t need it if they had just been heard,” she said.

Read more: Psychiatrists, Ontario government liable for horrific patient abuse at mental health facility

The couple said they tried to speak out about their concerns, but nobody listened.

They say they ended up feeling helpless, broken and lost, and could only find solace in each other.

“She was the first psychiatrist that a lot of us had because we were children and she was the main psychiatrist here in Kingston,” Susannah said.

“A lot of us didn’t seek help ever again or we did a lot later,” she added.

What was done?

After news broke of the charges against Roberts in early May, many of her former patients started to connect through comment sections on social media.

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Beaupre has spent much of the last decade feeling both guilt and doubt about her decision to put Rhys into care at Hotel Dieu. Now, she feels another mix of emotions.

“I’m very angry with the hospital. I second-guessed myself a lot after, but reading some of the other family stories online now, it just it fueled that anger,” she said.

Read more: People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence — not perpetrators

But, along with those emotions, those who spoke to Global News said they also felt a sense of relief seeing stories from others that reflect their own experiences.

“I’m just glad that finally somebody is listening. And it’s awful that it takes events as horrific as the ones that she’s been charged with for anything else to be heard,” said Susannah.

“After a decade, somebody validating the things that we experience and saying, ‘You know what? We believe you. We’re not just going to sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen,’ I think that was my biggest relief,” Beaupre said.

According to a joint statement provided from Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centre before publication, Roberts has not worked at either institution since both organizations first learned of the sexual assault allegation in September, 2020.

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“Once informed of the allegation, KHSC conducted a confidential internal review. We are not aware of any complaints of this nature raised with KHSC or Queen’s during Dr. Roberts’ time at both institutions,” the joint statement said.

Kingston Health Sciences Centre said Tuesday that it is “committed to providing high-quality, compassionate care to all of our patients and their families.”

“It is always concerning when people who access our services feel that they have not had the high-quality care experience that they deserve,” the hospital organization said.

When asked how both institutions would respond to complaints from parents and youth in the past about Roberts’ conduct, the statement noted that all complaints are directed to the patient relations department, “which carefully and thoroughly looks into each and every case brought to its attention.”

When asked if the hospital organization was dealing with a new wealth of complaints now that the charges have become public, Kingston Health Sciences Centre clarified Tuesday:

“Anyone with concerns about their care experience can reach out to our patient relations team, which will investigate individual concerns and complaints while respecting privacy regulations.”

The organization said due to provincial privacy legislation and respect for its patients’ privacy, it could not provide information or comment about individual experiences or concerns.

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