Nova Scotia tragedy: hospital did not turn away anyone, doctor says


Published on January 10, 2017

ANTIGONISH, N.S. — A senior medical official in Nova Scotia is challenging allegations that a former soldier who killed his family before committing suicide was turned away from an Antigonish hospital in the days before the killings.

Dr. Amit Minoli issued a statement Tuesday, saying no person was refused services or turned away from St. Martha's Regional Hospital.

Minoli was responding to a comment made last week by a relative of Lionel Desmond, the former infantryman who fatally shot his wife Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his mother Brenda before turning the gun on himself last week in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

A day after their bodies were found in the family home on Jan 3, Rev. Elaine Walcott said she couldn't understand why Lionel Desmond was refused treatment at St. Martha's mental health unit before the shootings. Walcott said Desmond was told there were no beds available at the facility.

Minoli, a senior medical supervisor at St. Martha's, said the hospital's emergency room has never been closed, and hospital staff routinely work through bed shortages to provide care to anyone seeking help.

"Our deepest sympathies go out to their extended families, friends and community as well as to the co-workers of Mrs. Desmond who was employed at our hospital," Minoli's statement said, referring to the fact that Shanna Desmond was a nurse at the hospital.

"We cannot comment on the specifics of this situation — but will be reviewing all aspects of our involvement from many perspectives. We would like, however, to confirm that no person was ever refused services or turned away from care at St. Martha's Regional Hospital."

Minoli declined to be interviewed after releasing the statement.

Some of Lionel Desmond's relatives have said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after a tour in Afghanistan in 2007, and had received treatment from the military. But the relatives have also said he did not get the help he needed when he returned to Nova Scotia about 18 months ago.

A retired soldier who served in Afghanistan with Desmond has said his friend had the classic symptoms of PTSD, but appeared to be dealing with them.

Later on Tuesday, the Nova Scotia Health Authority issued a statement insisting that the province's hospitals will not turn away anyone who requires admission, as assessed by a psychiatrist.

"If no bed is available in a person’s community, a bed is found elsewhere," the statement said.

"The tragedy would be compounded if anyone in Nova Scotia were to not seek care because they have formed an impression that help is not available or that they may be turned away if a facility is busy. Help is available, in many forms."

The authority said a triage process ensures anyone who is in serious need, but does not require emergency services, is seen within five working days.

Last Thursday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said an investigation will look into how the province's health-care system dealt with Lionel Desmond.

The first of two Desmond family funerals will be held Wednesday at St. Peter's Church in Tracadie, N.S. 

The service for Lionel Desmond and his 52-year-old mother is scheduled for 11 a.m. The funeral for Desmond's 31-year-old wife and their daughter is scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

The Canadian Press