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AHS reviewing security at all mental hospitals


Alberta Health Services will conduct a province-wide review to identify improvements in the management of psychiatric patients at risk of walking away from mental health facilities without consent.

The review is being launched after discussions between AHS and Alberta Health and Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdesky. The review will begin soon and will focus on mental health inpatients who have left a psychiatric hospital or an acute psychiatric inpatient unit in Alberta during the past three years without appropriate consent.

“We must do all we can to ensure the best possible care of our patients, and this review will help us make any necessary improvements to ensure that even our most vulnerable patients are looked after appropriately,” said Dr. David Megran, chief medical officer with Alberta Health Services.

“We take these cases extremely seriously, and if there are improvements to be made, we will make them.”

A review team will be established by the Alberta Health Services Provincial Quality Assurance Committee, and will include external experts and patient and family representatives, as well as AHS leadership and clinicians.

The team will analyze the circumstances, trends and contributing factors related to what is known as patient elopements, or when patients leave care centres without consent or care supports. The review will identify both short- and long-term improvements to programs and services that will reduce the risk of elopement, and allow staff to better respond to situations where patients do walk away.

Issues to be addressed by the review include, but are not restricted to: policies, best practices, staffing levels, education and training of care providers, the patient’s physical environment and the needs and concerns of patients and their families.

Facts and recommendations will be made public at the conclusion of the review in the fall.

Additionally, several interim changes are being immediately introduced at Alberta Hospital Edmonton (AHE) to reduce the risk of patients leaving the hospital inappropriately.

Additional security staff are being added at the AHE site. Security staff will also assess and make recommendations to improve the fence adjacent to Unit 10-1 to ensure the safety of patients and staff.

In the short term, AHE is also reviewing policies and procedures related to patient care plans.

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) president Guy Smith welcomed the review of mental health services and patient elopement issues.

“I was glad to hear an examination of staffing levels will be part of the review. Everyone in the continuum of care has a role to play in ensuring patient safety, from managers to our members on the front line, so we do expect to be involved, said Smith.

Smith said the union shares AHS’s concern that patients not be viewed as inmates, but have a proper care plan that allows for greater levels of freedom at the appropriate time in their treatment.

“This is not just about security officers at Alberta Hospital Edmonton, but the entire support system we provide for patients with mental illness province-wide,” said Smith.