Who To Believe?

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The side of health care stories that can't be told

The story about the suicidal teenaged girl is making headlines again on Here Now.

On Tuesday night, Chris ONeill-Yates brought us an update on the story, which broke a year ago, about the teen who, at one point, was taken in handcuffs from the Janeway to the Waterford Hospital. ONeill-Yates reported that the girl was released last week and soon made another attempt to kill herself.

In the story, Health Minister Jerome Kennedy was having a fit, and threatening to bring in outside investigators to probe how the case was handled. The familys lawyer is calling for the suspension of the psychiatrist who treated the teen.

But there is another side to this story; one that you wont hear officially because of the provinces privacy laws, which forbid health care administrators from discussing specific cases. And I do compose this piece cautiously, mindful of the patients privacy but cognizant that the minister and the familys lawyer have spoken quite publicly on the matter.

I do have a reliable source within the health care system; a person who works on the front lines, though not directly with this patient. My source is quite familiar with this case, and says the whole story is not coming out.

I am familiar with this patient through the hospital grapevine, the person said. Seeing Jerome Kennedy and the familys lawyer demonstrating their ignorance on the news just got me irritated... They know only what the family has told them, it appears.

My source is relieved that the teens diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) was made public. The condition is often driven by an anxiety or fear of being abandoned, and results in patients behaving in extreme and impulsive ways, as a means of getting attention, said my source. Behavior can be excessive and erratic, and is often characterized by suicide attempts. But attempt is the key word here. In most cases, the suicide attempt is calculated to gain attention.

My source says the patient in this case has made numerous other suicide attempts.

There are more attempts than the media knows about. If she was going to kill herself it would be done by now. On the occasions that these patients do die, its usually because they miscalculated their last attention-seeking attempt.

The source said health care providers within the medical system are familiar with BPD, that it is not rare, and this patient is one of many who have been treated for this condition.

I am talking to you mainly to point out that the health care system gets severely criticized when, in reality, all that can be done for this patient has been done, is being done and will continue to be done. Jerome Kennedy seems to be laying on the criticism perhaps in fear of a lawsuit from the family. However, knowing what I know I cant see how they could win such a suit, as the young patient has received good care. Watching the familys lawyer say the psychiatrist should be suspended is upsetting, when you know the work that has gone on with this poor kid. Lawyers and politicians are not doctors. I would like to see Jerome Kennedy's review done on the situation. It would be nice to hear the medical side of things and family aspect as well.

This story does highlight a problem that hampers the medias coverage of health care stories. Individuals can go to media and make all sorts of allegations of mistreatment, but the health care administrators cant defend themselves because of privacy laws.

Often, this works to the health care systems advantage they are able to smugly sidestep embarrassing stories simply by saying We cannot comment on specific cases.

Other times, they are forced to bite their tongue, unable to speak on the record while members of the public make outlandish complaints.

How do we know whom to believe?

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  • Peter
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    Geoff:
    I think this is one of the most important media issues you've brought up in a long time. I've certainly experienced my share of no other side stories as a reporter and editor. Unfortunately, the revelations often come to light after the fact.
    'I look forward to seeing what others say, particularly in terms of making judgment calls in an information vacuum.