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Mother says Nova Scotia Hospital staff placed pillowcase over son’s head

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Matthew Meisner, a young man who spent the last 12 years at a locked down unit within the Nova Scotia Hospital, recently had a pillowcase placed over his head by staff, his mother says.  

I want to warn parents, if you have a child with intellectual disabilities, don’t let your loved one go to that unit.

Matthew Meisner. Photo contributed.

“On September 9th I got a call from a manager who told me that a week earlier staff put Matthew in a restraint chair after he had been self-injuring,” says Tracey Meisner. “During the process he was a bit of a problem for them to manage. I believe he was spitting at somebody, and that’s when they put a pillowcase over his head.”

Meisner was in shock. “It was awful. I am on my way home from work, and I get a call from a manager who tells me about this incident that happened. I was devastated,” she says.

Meisner was told that it was clear that staff required further education. “I said, if you have to educate staff to not put a pillowcase over somebody’s head then you’re working with the wrong kind of staff,” Meisner says.  

Both an internal investigation and an investigation under the Protection of Persons in Care Act have been launched to review the incident, says Meisner.

Not the first time

As the Nova Scotia Advocate reported in March of this year, earlier allegations that her son was being physically abused by Emerald Hall staff were found to be justified.

At least one other complaint is still being investigated, nine months after it was filed by Meisner. That complaint deals with Matthew spending most of his days locked up in his room.

“Matthew looked very unwell, and he looked like he was losing weight,” says Meisner. “We asked about camera footage, and they were very evasive, and when we insisted they told us that footage is not available anymore, so it really felt as if we were getting the run around.”

Meisner has long argued that Matthew is not receiving the care he needs at Emerald Hall. Her son, who has a severe form of autism and is prone to self injury, is heavily medicated, hardly ever goes outside and spends most of his time in his room.

“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,” she told the Nova Scotia Advocate in March.

Still waiting for a move

At that time there was a suggestion that the Nova Scotia Hospital was getting ready to move Matthew to a unit on the hospital grounds that provides a more suitable environment. But Matthew is still stuck in Emerald Hall.

“With Matthew’s autism, he suffers from sensory overload or distress. Some people with autism have difficulty processing stimuli in their environment and it causes a sort of fight or flight reaction, which can result in an outburst,” says Meisner.

“There were a couple of things that needed to be done in order for the new place to be ready for Matthew We are aiming for a favourable environment, meaning reduced exposure to stimuli, fewer people, that kind of thing,” says a disappointed Meisner.

Based on earlier experiences Meisner believes Matthew would benefit tremendously from a more therapeutic environment. She suggests that given proper care Matthew would rebound and a more community-based living scenario is not impossible.

Waiting for Nova Scotia Health Authority response

We reached out to the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) for their response on Thursday morning.  We were told that a staff person would contact the Nova Scotia Advocate to discuss the issues raised by Meisner, as long as confidentiality constraints would not be breached. We will update the story when we receive that response.

In March of 2016, when we first reported on this matter, Everton MacLean, NSHA spokesperson, did respond via email.

Emerald Hall provides assessment, treatment and therapeutic care for with Dual Diagnosis (developmental disability and mental illness) who present with significant mental health issues/behavioral challenges that cannot be safely managed in the community,”McLean wrote at that time.

“The length of stay varies on individual basis depending on their individual challenges. When patients are admitted into Emerald Hall, they have a full psychiatric, medical and nursing assessment. During their stay in hospital, other interdisciplinary assessments are done to assess the full range of difficulties that the clients are presenting with.”

To Meisner it seems Matthew is simply warehoused, no matter what hospital management says. 

“There is something absolutely wrong with Emerald Hall,” she says. “I want to warn parents, if you have a child with intellectual disabilities, don’t let your loved one go to that unit, because this is what it is like, this is what it has been like for my son.”

Update, October 12, at 4:30 PM

We received the following response from Kristen Lipscombe, spokesperson for the NSHA:

Nova Scotia Health Authority takes the privacy and confidentiality of our patients very seriously, and has an obligation to protect their personal information under provincial legislation. We cannot answer questions or release details on specific cases.

Emerald Hall is an inpatient unit designed to support adults living with dual diagnosis, which is the term used when a person has a co-occurring intellectual disability and mental health diagnosis.

Individuals living with dual diagnosis often require ongoing specialized care and medication management. Sometimes they are admitted to an in-patient unit to receive treatment for an acute episode of illness, such as psychosis or depression, or to address behavioural issues.

Once admitted to Emerald Hall to stabilize an acute episode of illness, some patients remain in hospital for long periods of time, if they can’t be discharged into the community because their needs do not fit any of the current residential placement options.

As a result, these individuals sometimes live in hospital within units that have restricted access, to protect patients from leaving unattended.

Nova Scotia Health Authority has an abuse prevention and response policy, and we are obligated to report any allegations of abuse to the Department of Health and Wellness under the Protection of Persons in Care Act.

We cannot comment on any investigations that are currently underway. Staff, patients, managers or families may contact PPC whenever they have concerns about abuse. For more information about how allegations are reported and responded to through the PPC, please seehttp://novascotia.ca/dhw/ppcact/.




    1. Why? Can you elaborate further? Are you suggesting this is a good place or that this farm has good to say about the hospital? I’m not sure how to take your comment… I have a son with physical and mental challenges who is beautiful both inside and out and don’t ever want to be in the situation this woman /mother s on let alone what’s happened to her child…it infuriates me!

  1. This is insane why the hell would they put a pillow case over his head ….there are other ways …but will those who did this be reprimanded or not

  2. I encourage community members reading this article to recognize that these, although terrible to read, are alleged accusations. I hope that this incident will be thoroughly investigated and the hospital will follow through on their patient-centered, least-to-most restraint policy, and the staff member will be managed accordingly. The NS government needs to understand that these units are run by staff with a significant lack of training to manage these challenging behaviors, demonstrated by the most complex individuals in the province.

  3. I believe most of the NS gov. is run by people who are significantly lacking lacking appropriate training, period. Leo Glavine was horrified by a woman strapped to her hospital bed but I believe he doesn’t give a crap about people under the control of his department. I believe a majority of NS gov. employees lack the kind of common sense displayed by the “mom” when she said : “if you have to educate staff to not put a pillowcase over somebody’s head then you’re working with the wrong kind of staff,” Both an internal investigation and an investigation under the Protection of Persons in Care Act have been launched to review the incident, says Meisner. sure, they have so much public money to pay the people to investigate the underpaid, under trained workers, and it is just self preservation of a good paying gov. job to keep the public from knowing the true state of affairs under gov. control in this province. It is the first option of gov. employees, all departments, when receiving a complaint that is obviously valid, to stall, make excuses and hide evidence. That is my opinion. There are good workers .

  4. I work in a group home in NovaScotia, I also have a child who has autism, blind and non verbal. I went to college to learn how to properly treat our residents in our group home and had proper training for when they become aggressive. Under NO circumstances would I ever put a pillow case over someone’s head. We are here to teach, guide and protect. I’m sorry Matthew has been victim to such cruelty.

  5. I attempted to report the abuse going on in NS hospitals. I was told if it happened before 2007 i cannot report it because the Protect of person in care act came into affect in 2007.

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