Expert appointed in Rehtaeh Parsons review

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By Michael Tutton - The Canadian Press

HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government has appointed an independent expert to review mental health programs and policies at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax after an earlier report into the Rehtaeh Parsons case raised serious concerns about the hospital.

The government says child and adolescent psychiatrist Jana Davidson will also examine procedures within the Capital Health district and make recommendations to address gaps in treatment and counselling services for young people who are suicidal.

It says the study will focus on youth who’ve experienced sexual assault and bullying and will consider treatment for patients who don’t require hospitalization.

Earlier this month, another report commissioned by the province into the Halifax school board’s handling of the Parsons case called for an independent review of the IWK.

The report, which can be read here, said Parsons was admitted to the hospital in March 2012, about five months after she was allegedly sexually assaulted and became suicidal. Her family alleges she was sexually assaulted by four boys and a digital photograph of the incident was passed around her school.

The 17-year-old girl hanged herself in April and was taken off life-support three days later.

Glenn Canning, Parsons’ father, said he would like the study to directly address his daughter’s care in the hospital for about five weeks because he doesn’t believe she received the help she needed.

He said there should have been a stronger focus on her depression and the trauma from the alleged assault, and he believes the hospital was too eager to discharge his daughter.

“Their plan was to get her released. Two days after she was in there that’s all they wanted to talk about,” he said.

“It just seemed to be a … revolving door. I was more confused with them than anything else I had to deal with.”

A spokeswoman for the IWK was unavailable for an interview. In an email, Kathryn London-Penny said the hospital cannot comment on specific cases but, in general, “discharge planning begins on admission, with a focus on treating the patient so they are able to effectively integrate back into their communities.”

Davidson, who is the psychiatrist-in-chief of children’s programs at the Children’s and Women’s Health Centre of British Columbia, said she will not read the specifics of what happened in the Parsons case or interview people who treated her.

Her focus will be more generally on treatment and counselling services for young people and their families when there is a risk of suicide.

“I’ve been asked to do a review of policies and programs and pathways of care,” she said in an interview.

Kevin McNamara, deputy minister of Health and Wellness, said there are legal restrictions preventing reviewers from looking at specific patient cases — even if a single case provokes the review.

Parsons’ parents will be given access to some portions of an internal review done by the hospital, he added.

He estimated the review will cost about $15,000. It is due by Sept. 30.

Organizations: Halifax school board, Health Centre

Geographic location: British Columbia

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