'She couldn't get the help she needed'

'She couldn't get the help she needed'

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on May 5, 2012

Chrissy Pearce cried out for help and should not have died, says St. John's South-Mount Pearl NDP MP Ryan Cleary.

"She is dead, dead because she couldn't get the help she needed," Cleary said Friday.

Pearce, who suffered severe alcoholism, and her boyfriend walked into his office last fall and staff spent the day on the file, approaching top officials at Eastern Health as well as provincial officials, he said.

She did get into the Short Term Assessment and Referral Treatment (START) mental health and addictions program operated by Eastern Health at St. Clare's Hospital in St. John's.

But it was not the longterm, intensive help she needed.

Pearce got into detox on April 20, after trying all week. She discharged herself that night and died the next day.

"The help wasn't there," Cleary said. "I don't think the province has the capability to deal with addictions and mental health issues."

This week Eastern Health announced a contract has been awarded for the planning of the residential addictions treatment centre that will eventually open in Harbour Grace. Planning for the facility and its services will take place over the next 2 1/2 years.

But Eastern Health noted the Department of Health and Community Services already has an arrangement with Homewood Health Centre Inc. of Guelph, Ont., when referring adults with mental health and/or addiction problems out-of-province for treatment.

Pearce's boyfriend, Dean Cantwell, was incredulous when The Telegram told him that Friday.

"Wow," he said.

"She should have been sent out," Cleary also said in a telephone interview Friday.

The federal MP noted the provincial government has the responsibility for delivering health care.

"Is the province taking the resources and distributing them where they need to go? That's the question," he said.

Cleary said he doesn't have the answers to fix the system, but he said, "When people cry for help we have a problem.

"This lady is dead. Should she be dead? No way."

Meanwhile, with a nearly two-year wait list for methadone treatment, Cleary's office is also working to get her drug-addicted brother back on methadone. There are more than 140 people on the wait list, he said.

"This has to be dealt with before more people die," Cleary said.

In a response to a number of questions, Eastern Health, in a lengthy statement, told The Telegram the Recovery Centre in Pleasantville is voluntary, so clients can discharge themselves at any time.

However, Eastern Health said if staff believe there are safety concerns, they could call the patient's family or possibly the police.

There are only four of 19 beds in the facility for women, but Eastern Health insists the demand mostly comes from men.

Eastern Health said its mental health and addictions program routinely investigates cases that would have involved recently discharged clients that committed suicide or experienced a sudden death, to identify areas for quality improvement for programs and services.

But Eastern Health would not speak to specifics and would not say whether a review will take place in Pearce's case.

As for medications that don't mix with alcohol being prescribed to people like Pearce, Eastern Health said that's up to the doctor, based on circumstances and it's not unusual to prescribe anti-anxiety medications for certain clients.

Some are even prescribed to help alleviate a client's symptoms from alcohol withdrawal, Eastern Health said.

As for sending patients out of province, Eastern Health said an assessment would have to be done on a patient deemed to have complex substance abuse issues.

But Cantwell said that option was never offered Pearce.

According to the Department of Health and Community Services, the province has spent $2 million for 109 adults to receive out-of-province addictions treatment in the past five years.

bsweet@thetelegram.com