First in a two-part series
A mattress set stacked against the living room wall hints at the upheaval in Sharon Evans' life, and the stress spills out in the sometimes excited, sometimes hushed tones of her voice.
"I never would believe if I heard this. If I was to read this story concerning another individual, I would find it very hard to believe that our health care system would do something like that - release somebody with nothing in place," said Evans, who doesn't want her husband's name or diagnosis mentioned.
Evans' husband was in the Waterford Hospital for several years.
She said while he was out on a two-week pass in mid-December, he was discharged.
The problem, Evans said, is that she had already told staff handling his case that she had received word from her landlord she would have to move.
"I called the hospital and said they had to send a taxi for (my husband) because he had no address to stay at," Evans said.
"The nurse on the floor informed me he no longer had a bed on the ward he was on for almost seven years. I got very, very upset because I didn't know what I was going to do about him being discharged."
She said she didn't qualify for public housing because she was slightly above the income threshold and hasn't had much luck looking in a tight, expensive rental market. Compounding the search is the stigma against mental health, she said, adding she does not want to lie about her situation.
"When you do an application now, it's very lengthy. (Do Health officials) expect me to say he just come from Alberta, that's where he has been to for the past seven years? Because, really, who is going to rent to us?"
Evans said she feels she is being forced to take sole responsibility for her husband's complex mental health issues without proper supports. She wants some home care, appropriate housing and supervision by professionals to ensure he's taking his medication.
Evans said the man has an assertive community treatment (ACT) team following him, but the team requires him to meet at the Avalon Mall, despite the fact he has trouble finding his way through the mall. She said the team no longer comes to their home, and suspects it's because she asked too many questions and has been labelled "difficult."
The ACT program provides community-based treatment to people with severe and persistent mental illnesses. The care includes medication monitoring.
Evans said the ACT team failed to respond to a call made during a crisis.
"This is so crazy," Evans said. "I don't think they wanted to answer my questions. What else would it be?"
Because of patient privacy rules, Eastern Health does not discuss details of a case.
In a lengthy email detailing mental health services late Friday afternoon, the authority said its discharge planning is extensive and takes place well in advance of a patient leaving hospital.
The planning, said Eastern Health, includes followup and involvement of social work staff.
Eastern Health said it offers a range of supportive housing options and makes every effort to provide patients and clients with supportive housing options well before a patient leaves the hospital.
Eastern Health said the ACT team can respond to a crisis, but emergency services are more aptly provided by the Mental Health Crisis Line and the Mobile Crisis Response Team.
As for where the ACT team meets a client, Eastern Health said that depends on the client's comfort level and preference.
The turmoil began in the late 1990s when her husband had an accident. After 16 trips back and forth to the hospital, he was finally admitted to the Waterford for an extended stay, Evans said.
Compounding the couple's problems lately is that Evans has been off on stress leave since last summer from her personal-care attendant job, and has been without an income for months.
She said she has no choice but to separate from her husband, because otherwise she'll be left on her own to try to care for him. It's something she said she was advised to do by officials in previous years. But she also doesn't want him to wind up in a rundown boarding house.
"My biggest fight was for him to have quality of life and for everyone else to be safe. I don't think the general public realizes just how hard it is to seek help for somebody who do have mental health illness. ... I never wanted anything to happen. I did everything I could to prevent the unforeseeable," Evans said.
"Usually it's something terrible happens and then it's in the news. Then you hear the comments: 'Why didn't they get help? Why did it go so long without it being seen to?' The help is not there.
"This has been a roller-coaster ride. And the funny thing is the mental illness is not what has caused me the most stress in my life - and believe me, it has caused stress."
Her husband didn't want to do a full interview, but he said the discharge and housing issues are only half the story.
"Staff keep saying the police are going to get me," he said.
Evans said her husband was released with $2 in his pocket, no MCP card and with most of his clothes still remaining at the Waterford. He also had a form his doctor should have filled out, Evans said.
"On his way into the Waterford, he didn't know his bus (pass) only had one ride," she said of his visit to return the form.
"The unit he was on so long, he went and asked for a bus ticket. Friday, he got discharged. Monday they couldn't give him a bus ticket to get back here."
She's been told Eastern Health officials insist there was a plan in place to release her husband, and that the hospital was "housing" him for months because he was deemed able to be discharged.
"I just lost it then. Whatever trust and confidence I had in the ACT team was gone," Evans said.
Evans said she obtained some free legal advice to stand her ground, and also appealed to St. John's South MHA Tom Osbourne's office. And she said her fight isn't against the frontline workers, but with policies and lack of supports such as home care.
Evans fears the stress of their situation will make her sicker and send her husband back to hospital.
"Once I say, 'We are a couple, I am going to do it,' there is no help whatsoever. To me, I have been forced," said Evans, who plans to apply for social assistance as a single person to assert her point.
"To me, he should have never been released from the Waterford Hospital with nothing ... no care plan of how this was all supposed to take place. This was an awful injustice done to a person who has been institutionalized for seven years."
She said she doesn't have a paper trail.
"No more than (if) he was gone on a cruise and come home," Evans said.
Osbourne said Evans isn't in his district, but he wouldn't turn her away.
"We are being told by officials within the Department of Health that they have provided her or her husband with every level of assistance they can," the Tory MHA said.
"We are still proceeding with making phone calls on her behalf and trying to assist her. Because I truly believe Sharon herself needs assistance in providing assistance to her husband, who also needs assistance."
Evans said she also complained to the citizens' representative, Barry Fleming.
Fleming cannot confirm or deny receipt of a complaint. But a complicated issue can take six months to investigate.