The province has been failing to protect the legal rights of involuntarily admitted mental health patients, according to a report conducted by BC’s Office of the Ombudsperson.

Ombudsperson Jay Chalke announced that the vast majority of psychiatric facilities in the province do not possess all of the necessary legal documentation to involuntarily admit some patients.

The report found that most facilities lacked mandatory documents, including consent and description of treatment forms, notification of patient’s rights and notifications to relatives, documents that outline the reason for detention, and papers that generally lacked necessary signatures or dates.

“In [some] cases, physicians failed to explain why a person met the criteria for involuntary admission yet the patient was nonetheless admitted,” reads the report.

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Chalke stresses that the government should be paying strict attention to their legal responsibilities, especially when detaining individuals.

“Involuntary detention and treatment is the most intrusive form of mental health care available,” said Chalke. “This is a failure to comply with the Mental Health Act, the law that allows people who are gravely ill – our friends, daughters, sons, parents, and grandparents – to receive timely treatment while protecting their legal rights.”

Chalke also added that involuntary admissions are often a last resort for mentally ill people who are at risk of harming themselves or others.

“The state, when it uses such an extraordinary power, has a critically important duty to follow the law. This includes properly completing documentation of what is happening to an individual and why.”

Recommendations and response

The report made 24 recommendations on how to improve the current system, all of which have since been accepted by the province and health authorities.

The recommendations focus on three areas:

  • Set 100% compliance targets and increase public reporting about involuntary admissions.
  • Educate staff and physicians on the necessity of form completion and standards for compliance of the Mental Health Act.
  • Third and “most importantly”, develop an independent rights advisory service to work in designated facilities and provide advice to patients about their circumstances and detention, and their options if they disagree with their detention or related decisions.

In principle, the province has accepted all of the recommendations that the Ombudsperson has put forward, and is currently taking steps to act on them.

“I thank the ombudsperson for this report and for the office’s commitment to ensuring the safety and rights of people living with mental illness and addiction in British Columbia,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions in a statement.

“Nothing is more important to me than keeping people safe… People who access mental-health care in B.C. deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Anything less is unacceptable. Our priority is to build a system of mental-health and addictions care that works for everyone, and that is what we are working toward.”

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