B.C. Liberal private member’s bill aims to bolster hospitals’ suicide prevention tools

Click to play video: 'BC Liberal MLA introduces suicide-prevention bill'
BC Liberal MLA introduces suicide-prevention bill
A BC Liberal MLA is hoping to make changes to the Mental Health Act with the goal of saving lives. Elenore Sturko introduced a private member's bill Wednesday hoping to better protect people in crisis and prevent suicide deaths. Richard Zussman has more. – Mar 8, 2023

A B.C. opposition MLA is introducing legislation Wednesday she hopes could give hospital workers a new tool to save the lives of people having mental health crises.

B.C. Liberal South Surrey Elenore Sturko’s private member’s bill would require emergency room doctors or nurse practitioners to seek additional information before releasing a person apprehended under the Mental Health Act.

Click to play video: 'Liberal MLA set to introduce bill to amend mental health laws'
Liberal MLA set to introduce bill to amend mental health laws

Sturko said the bill calls for health-care workers to reach out to people with a close knowledge of the person in crisis’s situation, such as family members or first responders.

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Sturko announced the bill at the B.C. legislature, flanked by the families of Vancouver police Const. Nicole Chan and Todd Marr, both of whom took their own lives.

An inquest into Chan’s suicide in January heard that she spent just 80 minutes at the Vancouver General Hospital’s Access and Assessment Centre after being apprehended the night before her death in 2019, and that the attending doctor could not legally hold her against her will.

The inquest also heard that hospital staff did not have all of the relevant information in her case, including a history of suicide attempts.

Click to play video: 'Jury in coroner’s inquest into suicide of VPD officer makes recommendations'
Jury in coroner’s inquest into suicide of VPD officer makes recommendations

“I was quite shocked she was released within two hours of being admitted,” her sister Jenn Chan said Wednesday.

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“If there was more information and communication between different parties, that could have been prevented, she could have been kept a little longer and her life might have been saved. So I’m hoping this can prevent future deaths and other people having to go through what we are going through.”

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Marr’s family described a similar situation before his death in 2009.

“We took him to the hospital. He talked to the doctors. They said there was nothing they could do except put him in a padded room, give him a bus ticket the next morning, send him home or wherever. The next morning he took his life,” his mother Lorraine told media.

Click to play video: 'Surrey MLA introduces bill aimed at preventing suicides'
Surrey MLA introduces bill aimed at preventing suicides
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Sturko, who is a former Surrey RCMP officer, said her bill seeks to amend Section 28 of the Mental Health Act, which lays out the circumstances under which a person can be apprehended and held involuntarily.

“When there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is a harm to themselves or others they can be apprehended and brought before a doctor or a nurse practitioner in B.C. and they’ll do an assessment on that person to determine whether they fit the criteria for certification,” she said.

“What happens in many cases is that person is not painting the full picture of the circumstances, so they are not, therefore, meeting the criteria.”

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Asked about privacy concerns, Sturko said the amendment wouldn’t require health-care workers to disclose sensitive personal information about a patient.

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She acknowledged the change would mean that health-care workers would need to disclose to family members that a person in crisis had been admitted to hospital, but said such disclosure was reasonable in the context of saving lives.

“We have to remember what we are looking at is situations where we have multiple documented cases of people who needed help, did not receive that help, and then unfortunately either died by suicide or self-harm,” she said.

“There’s a lot of good we can do when we open our minds to the idea of allowing family and those that care about people who are suffering from either addictions or mental health to have their input, to really reach out and help.”

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B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon added that doctors and nurses in emergency departments are already operating at their limits, forced to make quick decisions. He said the new tool would allow them to make better assessments.

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He said he hoped the B.C. NDP government would give the bill fair consideration, despite the two parties’ political differences.

“Government and opposition can work together and have in the past, and I think this is another opportunity where we can all agree that this would probably be a positive thing we can do,” he said.

“We can do it without any partisanship, just knowing this is something that could benefit untold numbers of individuals and families that would not have to go through some of the stress and trauma and challenge that these families have.”

It is extremely rare for private member’s bills to even make it to the floor of the legislature for debate, and rarer still for them to be passed into law.

Marr said she too hoped the government and opposition could overcome their differences and approve the changes.

“I just wish I would have had the chance to have somebody ask me what was happening in Todd’s life,” she said through tears.

“Please pass this bill.”

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