featured Inclusion

Warehoused at the Nova Scotia Hospital for 10+ years

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Tracey Meisner, the mother of a 31-year old man who spent 12 miserable years at a locked down unit at the Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth, wants him out of that place.

“He started saying things like oh I don’t care, you can stay in your pissy clothes all day long, and we’re going to keep you locked up, you little cocksucker, things like that.”

Matthew lives with autism and severe mood disorders that make his behaviour unpredictable and at times aggressive. The aggression often turns inward, as he tends to self-harm.

No human being should have to suffer Matthew’s fate at Emerald Hall, the Nova Scotia Hospital unit where he has spent almost half his life. He doesn’t get outside much. No stimulation is offered. There are no incentives to explore. 

Matthew mostly just sits in his room, day after day after day.

“Matthew has limited ability to cope and so he’s going to be what they call amped up a bit and then they throw a bunch of medication at him,” says Meisner. “Then the next day I read a staff note saying he was slow and unfocused and hard to get going. Well, he’s just taken the benzodiazepine medications, no wonder he is slow and unfocused..”

“He hardly ever gets to go outside,” says Meisner. “But if you’re feeling kind of restless than it would be so nice to get out for a walk, it’s nice to get fresh air.”

Proper support is lacking

“It’s very frustrating. The hospital fails to promote appropriate levels of enrichment and this encourages behaviors that puts those patients at risk. (Residents) are essentially warehoused in those places. It makes me so angry.”

Support by a behavioural specialist would make a big difference, Meisner says, but getting hospital staff and management to commit to that has been a struggle every step of the way.

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Two years ago some out-of-province experts worked with Matthew and Emerald Hall staff and the changes were remarkable.

“He was doing so much better. He would come home, and we went swimming, and he loves to swim and we would have a lovely time. He didn’t need medications,” Meisner says. Then the therapists’ contract was not renewed, Meisner’s protests were ignored, and staff reverted to old routines.

“Instead of calming him down naturally, and be more therapeutic and helpful, they would just lock him up in his room again, and as a result the problem behaviour would escalate. And then staff would say it was too dangerous for him to go out,” Meisner says.

Concerns about abuse

Tracey Meisner also worries that Matthew may be mistreated.

Sometimes he will repeat phrases he has heard at an earlier time, which is not uncommon for people who live with autism. “He started saying things like oh I don’t care you can stay in your pissy clothes all day long, and we’re going to keep you locked up, you little cocksucker, things like that,” Meisner says.  

Meisner doesn’t feel that the Department of Health and Wellness, responsible for Matthew’s well-being, is listening when she raises the alarm about her suspicions.

“We did file complaints but the department didn’t even come to the unit to interview anybody about any of those things. Essentially they spoke to one of the managers at Emerald Hall and that’s how they concluded that there was really nothing they can do,” Meisner tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.

Two earlier allegations that her son was being abused by Emerald Hall staff were found to be justified, Meisner says.

Shortly after Matthews’s arrival at Emerald Hall it was discovered that he had been hit by front line staff while being held.

If it wasn’t for two courageous new workers reporting the physical abuse by their colleagues nobody would have known.  The case went to court and two workers lost their jobs, Meisner says.

There was also an instance in 2014 when a front line worker was found to have used excessive force. That worker, although no longer in charge of Matthew, still works at Emerald Hall.  

“I see him there all the time, it’s like a slap in the face. We’ll come in and visit and we’ll see him with another patient that another door up just a door in the hallway,” Meisner says.

Abuse in institutions is notoriously difficult to prove. Residents are extremely vulnerable, and often lack even elementary communication skills. Yet abuse happens frequently. Last year the Nova Scotia Advocate found evidence that in a three-year period on average one in twenty residents fell victim to abuse in institutions administered by the Department of Community Services.

Province doesn’t help, says mother   

Neither the Department of Health and Wellness nor the Nova Scotia Hospital administration has offered much support, says Matthew’s mother. Efforts to get proper care and therapeutic support for Matthew in a unit other than Emerald Hall are an uphill battle.

“It’s absolutely awful. I’m angry a lot of the time. I’m angry because I am constantly trying to get some kind of reassurance from managers who aren’t truthful.  We spent all of last year having meetings with the directors of these programs, and they were very unproductive,” Meisner says.

Late last year the Nova Scotia Hospital management finally promised to move Matthew to another unit that provides a more stimulating environment. But a space for Mathew has to be created there, and that will take time, Meisner is told.

“We’ll see,” is all Meisner will say.

Nova Scotia Health Authority responds

In an emailed response to our questions Everton McLean, spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), states that Emerald Hall offers a full suite of therapeutic support for its residents.

“Unfortunately, at times, clients admitted to Emerald Hall for stabilization have then subsequently not been able to be discharged back to community due to lack of appropriate placement options for them. Ideally, community placement options would exist to provide longer-term residential care to some of the more complex patients so that they would not have to stay for many years in an acute care hospital,” McLean writes.  

Based on admission dates of current patients the average stay of patients at Emerald Hall is well over eight years, McLean tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.

“It is important to point out that prolonged stays in institutions can be harmful to a person’s psychological, emotional and physical health and, hence, community placement is crucial,” McLean adds. “The harmful effects of institutionalization can be significant and negative — and may further erode people’s ability to eventually live in the community.”

For privacy reasons the department is unable to speak about individual cases. But abuse is consistently investigated as stipulated in the Protection for Persons in Care Act, and NSHA’s Abuse Prevention and Response policy, says McLean.  

Community living remains ultimate goal, says mother

Getting Matthew moved out of Emerald Hall is only step one for Tracey Meisner.  

“Matthew arrived at Emerald Hall when he was 19, and now he is 31,” says Meisner. “His biggest problem right now is that he is where he is, it’s been such a horror.

“We’re just fighting for him to have a better life. He could do well in the community, with the  proper supports. So let’s start working towards getting him those supports. We’ll cross the community thing when we come to it.”


Photos contributed by Tracey Meisner




  1. I think the names and addresses of those who abuse innocent helpless people should be publicized. These administrators and employees are guilty of neglect. The only way you’ll get these people to be accountable is to expose them.

  2. I worked at the Nova Scotia Hospital , with Matthew. In fact I am one of the employees who stepped forward on behalf of hm when he was assaulted by a staff member. After two years of continuous harassment by other staff and being treated like a pariah for stepping up I was forced to leave my position at the NS. I could no longer continue to work in a toxic environment such as there was on that unit. I am heartbroken to see this article,as it was my hope that my actions would have brought major change to the program . Please let the Meisner family know I am so sorry to hear of their continued struggle.

    1. I was abuse in the NS and no one was willing to report what was going on..It makes me sick to my stomach to know the harm that these places are doing to people. Thank you for for stepping forward..I only wish the nurses in the NS had the courage to report what happened to me.

    2. Good for you for reporting it! So sad that employees that step up and do the right thing for the most vulnerable, wouldn’t be protected! It’s baffling really! Sorry for the stress that you’ve had to endure. Let’s hope that Karma has those responsible in its sights! I don’t know you, nor have anyone at the NS now. But I thank you for all you’ve done!

  3. This brings tears to my eyes and makes my heart sad. We all need love and attention! How else can we survive?

  4. I was put into the NS under the false pretense of mental illness..Kept in their facility near death, hooked up to an IV and cathedar for weeks. As I started to come around I was then threatened with the use of ECT and it was done on me without any written consent from me. I believe the ECT was use as a way to disable any memory I was starting to regain about what happen in the ER and what an ER doctor did to me medically without written consent..The fact is I had an infection and went to the ER and an ER doctor misdiagnosed the infection as “Probably Viral” He failed to treat it so I had to keep returning back to the ER and the infection continued to spread up my body causing Meningitis..A psych hospital eventually used to cover up my condition as a mental illness…People fail to report these things and so much is covered up and swept under the rug in my opinion….Abuses will continue in these place as no one is monitoring them or willing to report what is really going on.

  5. The Protection for Persons in Care Act

    If you were abused prior to 2007 you cannot report it according to what I was told.

  6. I was abused at the NS for almost a decade as well. They would not let me out and put me in solitary confinment for weeks at a time with no food or water. I was beaten several times by their security guards because I refused meds. The meds they put me on made me so sick, I developed so many ailments, thankfully when I was finally discharged (with help of a lawyer) I was able to taper off meds. I haven’t needed meds for 10 years (no hospitalizations since). I feel I was misdiagnosed and treated with the wrong pills for so long. I was treated like a dog, without dignity, made to use the washroom on the floor and eat without utensils. I was never violent. I simply refused to take pills. They injected me anyway against my will. The staff cover up all the wrongdoings and write what they want in their reports. So many of them should be sued for neglect, abuse and malpractice. The NS is a fascist torture chamber.

  7. I was there for a temporary stay a few years back. They gave me so much medication that I passed out and hit my head on the ground. Had to get an ambulance back to the QEII. When people ran to check on me the nurse that was in charge told them not to bother because I was just doing it for attention. It was a horrible place.

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