Two parents are grieving the loss of their daughter, who froze to death on the streets of Dartmouth just hours after they say their daughter was dismissed from a mental health clinic.
They blame Nova Scotia’s mental health system.
“We’re are very frustrated with the system and very angry,” mother Irina Andriychuk said. “We lost our daughter to, actually, a terrible health system.”
Irina and Mike Andriychuk said their daughter Yuliya died the night of Nov. 14, 2022. She was 32 years old.
Her medical records indicate she went into mental distress while outdoors and died from hypothermia.
The Andriychuks say Yuliya had been dismissed from a mental health clinic just days prior, without medication.
It was the end of a two-year battle with the province’s mental health system for the family. Last month, Yuliya’s parents emailed provincial Health Minister Michelle Thompson calling for answers about their daughter’s death.
“Yuliya was not terminally ill, and with adequate treatment and support she could live a long and happy life,” the Feb. 13 letter read. “Our daughter had followed all procedures and treatment assigned to her, why she is not with us?”
The Dartmouth Community Mental Health & Addictions medical centre has referred Global News to Nova Scotia Health for comment.
The province’s health authority has begun an internal quality review into the incident.
A statement from the Department of Health and Wellness and the Office of Addictions and Mental Health extended their “sincere condolences to the Andriychuk family.”
It said the province will respond to the parents directly.
“While we are unable to comment on specific cases, Nova Scotia Health is conducting a review to determine what happened. Results of that review will be shared with the family.”
A two-year battle
Yuliya had been healthy her whole life. But in 2020, she had a mental health incident for the first time during a yoga class.
Witnesses called an ambulance and Yuliya spent two weeks hospitalized at the QEII’s Abbie J. Lane Memorial Building, a mental health facility.
At the time, her mother Irina was made her substitute decision-maker, but, without her knowledge, Irina said Yuliya was discharged without being given any medication or follow-up appointments with a doctor.
Fearing something would happen to their daughter again, Mike, who is a rotational worker, spent months taking Yuliya to his work site so he could keep an eye on her. The Andriychuks live outside of the province but Mike temporarily relocated to Halifax.
In October of 2021, Irina said Yuliya had a mental breakdown and was taken to Abbie J. Lane.
“After three days the hospital called us and said they lost our daughter,” the mother said. “We were in shock. How is this possible?”
According to Andriychuk, Yuliya had walked out of the hospital in downtown Halifax all the way to her home in Dartmouth, arriving at 4 a.m. the next morning.
That’s when the parents wrote their first letter to Nova Scotia Health. It got results, but only for a short time.
“Everything changed. Yuliya got attention, she got medications. She was assessed and they started to have different sessions like psychology group therapy, art sessions,” Andriychuk said.
Andriychuk said her daughter was at the hospital for about 30 days before she was allowed to visit home for a long weekend.
But when Mike and Yuliya returned to Abbie J. Lane after the weekend, they were told Yuliya had been discharged.
“Yuliya went to her room (in the hospital) and after she came back, she said, ‘Dad, my bed has been taken,’” Irina said, adding they had not been consulted.
“Me and Mike didn’t get any help … any advice what to do. What should we do with a person who lives at home and who is sick? How should we manage that?”
Mike began taking Yuliya to his worksite again and travelled to Halifax once a month to help Yuliya with medications she was receiving at a mental health clinic.
“It was the happiest years in my life because every day I saw my daughter,” Mike said. He acknowledged he was lucky to have an understanding employer, which many don’t have. “Not many people can afford what I could do for my daughter.”
‘She was just rolling down’
The parents said medications, prescribed by a doctor in January of 2022 and administered monthly by a nurse, were working for Yuliya. But, they said her medication was reduced sometime that spring – without having seen a doctor again.
“There is nothing wrong to change treatment. I understand the doctor wants to try different things, but at least you can follow up, you see how it works,” Mike said. “No doctor. How (is that) possible?”
Yuliya’s health started declining again in the fall.
“We could see she was just rolling down,” Irina said. The couple said they called the mental health clinic they had dealt with, asking for help, but to no avail.
On Nov. 3, 2022, Yuliya had a mental breakdown and was taken to the emergency room. She spent three days there, according to her parents, before she was seen by a specialist to assess her.
Mike said he told the doctor Yuliya was unwell and needed to be hospitalized. The doctor later called back, saying he disagreed and decided to discharge Yuliya.
In an email, Nova Scotia Health spokesperson Krista Keough told Global News when a person presents at an emergency department, they are medically assessed before deciding whether consultation with a crisis response clinician or psychiatry is needed.
“The goal is to work with the individual and their family to deliver the most appropriate care for their specific needs and, if it is required, develop a care plan involving their clinician or referral to other mental health treatment programs,” the email read in part.
“The decision to keep someone in hospital is made by gaining an understanding of the whole person – not by a single moment or incident.”
Keough added that not every mental health crisis requires hospitalization, saying, “there is significant evidence to demonstrate the potential harm of hospital admission for people with particular mental disorders.”
‘She wanted to live’
The parents say on Nov. 14, 2022, Yuliya went to a mental health clinic in Dartmouth for an appointment only to find out it had been cancelled. She left without receiving her medication, her mother said.
Irina said Yuliya called her parents over video after leaving the clinic. It was the last they would hear from her.
“She was in a very bad state, you could see it on her face. She didn’t want to talk,” said Irina. “She left home and we never saw her back.”
The parents said Yuliya had another mental breakdown later that evening, but this time no one was around to help. They say she froze to death overnight and was found on a street in Dartmouth the next day.
“She could (have) lived her life with the help of medication,” Irina said. “The mental health hospital just didn’t care. If they cared, she would be alive because she wanted to live.”
Irina said Yuliya was born in Latvia and the family moved to Nova Scotia 20 years ago, where she finished high school. She was a psychology student at Dalhousie University and had many hobbies.
“She played music, she went horseback riding and figure skating, she was reading a lot. She was very intelligent,” her mother said.
Irina and Mike believe Yuliya would still be alive today if she had continued her treatment.
Mike questioned how long Nova Scotians are going to have to keep talking about a broken health system before changes are made. He and Irina are calling on Nova Scotians to keep demanding changes in health care.
“I’m asking for people who need it, like my daughter Yuliya,” said Mike.
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