FREDERICTON (GNB) – Ombud Charles Murray today released findings of his office’s probe into complaints of mistreatment of patients at the Restigouche Hospital Centre in Campbellton, caused in part by chronic understaffing.

The investigation was initiated in 2017 when Murray received an anonymous letter alleging incidents of violence against patients, negligence, and the use of restraints and force by front line staff at the facility. In one case, referred to in the report, the lack of regular assessments and detailed care plans for patients is cited as a possible contributing factor in the premature death of a patient.

“Far from being its intended centre of excellence, the Restigouche Hospital Centre has reverted to an antiquated model of a mental institution operating largely to warehouse New Brunswick residents with serious mental health issues,” said Murray.

The report says the hospital has been unable to build a critical mass of clinical psychiatric expertise, which has resulted in significant delays in patients receiving assessments. In a number of cases, external experts also found the assessment work to be negligent.

The report also highlights the physical mistreatment of patients during staff responses to Code White incidents when patients exhibit aggressive behaviour that poses a danger to themselves and or staff. The current understaffing has created risk for hospital staff, because extra staff have to respond from other wings of the facility, causing delays.

“This is an unacceptable situation impacting some of the province’s most vulnerable residents that cannot be corrected by simply throwing more money at the hospital,” said Murray. “I am calling on the province to take immediate action by shrinking the mandate of this institution and potentially closing a number of units, reducing the number of mental health populations it is mandated to serve.”

Murray acknowledged the repeated efforts made by staff at the centre to address these significant challenges. He noted that in some instances staff have sacrificed their personal lives and emotional well-being in the cause, but have been given an impossible task.

In addition to downgrading services at the hospital, Murray is calling on the government to reconsider the plan for the construction of an adjacent youth mental health facility. He said that if such a new facility opened, it would encounter the same recruitment problems.

Murray recommends the province explore other potential uses for the hospital with its state-of-the-art design.

Murray has asked the province to respond to his report within 90 days before determining if his office should conduct a more extensive investigation.