Mom still awaits answers in daughter's death at hospital as records released to media

·5 min read
Hillary Hooper, seen here with her beloved dog, Blue, died by suicide at the Saint John Regional Hospital in December after numerous attempts to get help for depression.  (Submitted by Patty Borthwick - image credit)
Hillary Hooper, seen here with her beloved dog, Blue, died by suicide at the Saint John Regional Hospital in December after numerous attempts to get help for depression. (Submitted by Patty Borthwick - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

A "disappointing waste of paper."

That's how Patty Borthwick described 52 pages of hospital records about the night her daughter tried to take her own life in the psychiatric unit of the Saint John Regional Hospital.

"That stuff they gave you, that's all garbage. Like, that's embarrassing that they'd even consider that a release," said Borthwick, who's been trying for months to get access to her daughter's records.

And she's even more upset that it was released to the news media first.

"It's terrible treatment because I should have known first," Borthwick said Tuesday.

She's written to everyone from Horizon Health, to the minister of health and the premier, and has only ever received the coroner's report, which stated that her daughter, died by asphyxiation. Hillary Hooper was kept alive for a week before being removed from life support on Dec. 9.

Submitted by Patty Borthwick
Submitted by Patty Borthwick

In response to a right to information request, CBC was recently sent 52 pages of documents related to Hooper's death, although names, dates, times and most other pertinent information has been removed.

In fact, what's left isn't very helpful, said Borthwick after going through the documents.

"You know, that could have been about a zoo in Toledo, Ohio, with 13 tigers. … There was nothing in there."

Borthwick said she only learned one thing about the night of her daughter's suicide — the hospital claims the psychiatric unit exceeded its normal staffing requirements. According to the documents, the unit usually has three registered nurses and one licensed practical nurse on duty. On Dec. 2, there were three RNs.

In addition to a mention of a spiritual adviser being made available to staff and other patients, Borthwick said, the detail about the staffing level was the extent of useful information — and both were self-serving.

"Well, there's another pat on the back. We're doing a good job, which makes me even more suspicious, because if those are the only two little tidbits you're going to give me, it's like, 'Oh, yeah, what are you hiding?'"

The depth of their insensitivity is immeasurable. - Bill Wilkerson

She said the documents were "redacted to the point of ridiculousness."

The package included eight pages of minutes from a Horizon board of directors meeting. The meeting was called to order and seven blank pages followed before the next meeting was identified. In between, only one short section remained from the patient safety and quality improvement committee.

The minutes state that an employee gave a report about a meeting held on March 17, but no details were given. According to the minutes, "Discussions were held. Questions were answered."

Despite there being almost no meaningful information left in the redacted documents, Borthwick is upset that she wasn't even afforded that.

" I was really rankled," she said. "Here's my daughter — [this is] stuff I've been fighting for since last December — and they'll release it … to a news outlet, but not the family? Like, how ignorant is that?"

Submitted by Patty Borthwick
Submitted by Patty Borthwick

She said she didn't even get a heads-up from Horizon that the documents would be released to the media.

"To me, that is ignorant as can be — ignorant and uncaring and selfish and just the exact same things they've been doing from day one."

She said as soon as she learned about the release from a reporter, she turned to her husband and said, "I am so choked that I'm the mom. It's my daughter. She died under their care, and they're kind enough to release it to strangers at a news outlet but not kind enough to release it to the family first. Seriously?"

A longtime mental health advocate is appalled that the documents would be released to the media before the family.

"Giving it first to a news media outlet tells me that the depth of their insensitivity is immeasurable," said Bill Wilkerson, the co-founder of Mental Health International.

Wilkerson has intervened in the case on Borthwick's behalf, writing directly to Premier Blaine Higgs several times, in an effort to find the answers she's been seeking for months.

"There is a degree of shamelessness that appears to me to be in play as well," Wilkerson said. "So they made something bad worse."

Daken family received documents

Borthwick wonders why she wasn't afforded the same consideration as the family of Lexi Daken.

The 16-year-old Maugerville girl went to the emergency room at a Fredericton hospital on Feb. 18 and asked for mental health help. After waiting eight hours, she left without any mental health intervention. She died by suicide less than a week later.

Lexi's parents have also been trying to get more information about the circumstances surrounding her death and were recently offered the documents — with conditions.

While the letter from Horizon Health Network's lawyer doesn't mention a formal non-disclosure agreement, it states that the records will be released "pursuant to an implied undertaking" that the Dakens keep the information to themselves.

They now have those documents, Lexi's father, Chris, confirmed on Tuesday.

After hearing about Horizon's letter to the Dakens' lawyer, Borthwick wrote a letter to Horizon officials, asking "how the family of Lexi Daken was afforded the courtesy of receiving her medical records."

Submitted by Chris Daken
Submitted by Chris Daken

When asked for comment on Tuesday morning, Horizon sent an emailed response from Jean Daigle, vice-president community.

He said Horizon "has reviewed this patient safety incident with relevant clinical team members, in association with Horizon's patient safety services. We have shared the recommendations with the mother of this patient and are exploring the feasibility of the recommendations and associated timelines."

The Horizon documents released to CBC make note of two recommendations that arose from the internal review of Hooper's death.

One is to create a safe place in the hospital — either in the emergency department or in 4D North — for those in a mental health crisis.

The second is to alter the design of door frames, presumably in an attempt to prevent hanging. The report says, "Options being considered re: physically altering doors versus purchasing alarms." The report said the target was April 2021.

Horizon was asked specifically about giving Borthwick the documents she's requested, but no response was sent by publication time.

If you are in crisis or know someone who is, here is where to get help:

CHIMO hotline: 1-800-667-5005 / http://www.chimohelpline.ca

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868, Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566

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