To assume mental health patients just admitted into a hospital do not have the means to speak up for themselves would be incorrect.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enacted in 1982 gives specific regard to the rights of people with mental disabilities. Fay Orr, Alberta’s Mental Health Patient Advocate (AMHPA) took some time to let members of the Ponoka Rising Sun Clubhouse know about her function.
Formed in the 1990s, the AMHPA ensures someone in the mental health system has a voice. The patients it handles are certified — those who have been placed in a hospital due to a mental illness — or who are under a community treatment order. In both cases individuals are required to follow a certain set of guidelines and even though they may not be able to leave a hospital or break their treatment order, they do have the right to be told why it is happening as well as retain a lawyer, see their certificate and appeal the certificate if desired. “A lot of people assume if someone is in a mental health facility they don’t have the ability to know what is happening — but they do.”
“Those are some of the critical rights that are enshrined in the acts,” she said.
The group consists of five staff who field phone calls from patients and sometimes nurses in the industry as well as family members. Their job is to work on each case, mostly as a mediator, but also for more serious cases involving allegations of abuse or mistreatment.
A member of the clubhouse, Alex Cameron had a question for Orr.
“How do you determine what is a legitimate complaint?” Cameron asked.
Orr said mental health advocates work closely with patients, nurses, staff and doctors to investigate the cause of an issue. For the most part they deal with cases of miscommunication, but for the more serious calls they do have access to a patient’s medical files and can conduct their interviews with that information. “We have the legislative authority to investigate complaints.”
Despite not being able to investigate many cases in person, the five staff fielded 748 patients last year.
Hospital staff are required by law to notify patients of their rights and give them the contact number for the AMHPA. Orr said there have been some instances where information is not given to patients, but usually it is a medical unit not set up for mental health patients.
All calls are confidential and staff also take calls from mental health institutions around Alberta such as the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury.
Mental health advocates are not able to handle calls from volunteer patients as they are not necessarily in the category of a mental health patient, but they do direct them to Alberta Health Services or the Protection of Persons in Care office.
The purpose of the AMHPA is to assist people who are unable to leave a hospital and to ensure they are treated with the respect they deserve, but she has found the experiences of volunteer and certified patients tend to be similar.
“We would like to be able to cover volunteer patients,” she said.
Cameron feels both should be treated the same. “I completely agree with that.”
Clubhouse manager Amanda Henderson feels there might be people who would be able to assist as an extension of the advocates. They could take some of the training needed to conduct the role.
“Having a staff member in some sort of capacity who is really interested and wanting to take this, if they could take a workshop and be a representative in that zone and have mini stewards that of course come back to the main office,” she said.
She suggested there would be staff willing to take on the role.
Orr’s position is a three-year cabinet appointment.
“It’s taken very seriously by cabinet, we have a lot of autonomy,” she said.
Orr and another advocate visited the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury after the information session to meet with patients and discuss any issues they might have.