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A breach of rights

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Christie was detained involuntarily under the Mental Health Act and contacted us because she felt her rights were being breached. She explained that her telephone access had been restricted and she disagreed with her treatment plan.

In our investigation, we noted that as part of Christie’s care plan, she was allowed four, 15-minute supervised calls per day. She had also agreed that staff could be in the room to support her during the calls. However, when we reviewed her calls, we learned that staff had listened to phone calls to our office as well as to the Mental Health Review Board (the Board), and had written detailed notes in her patient chart about her conversations. While there may be clinical and/or security-related reasons to listen to a patient’s telephone calls, there are privacy protections that must also be observed.

The Ombudsperson Act allows for confidential written communication between our office and complainants confined to a hospital or facility operated by or under the direction of a health authority. In discussions with the Chair of the Board, we also learned that involuntarily detained patients are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy when speaking to a staff member of the Board.

The other concern raised by Christie’s experience was related to the telephone calls being recorded in the patient’s chart. Not only was there no way of knowing if what was recorded was accurate, but it remains in the record for an unknown number of individuals to access.

While Christie’s chart indicated she had agreed to staff being in the room during her calls, there was no record that her right to privacy had been explained to her. For this reason, it was our view that the consent referred to in the record was not informed consent. In our recent report, Committed to Change: Protecting the Rights of Involuntary Patients under the Mental Health Act, we discussed the vulnerability of patients detained under the Mental Health Act and the need for strict adherence to the safeguards and other requirements established for their protection.

In response to this investigation, Interior Health agreed to undertake a number of changes including removing the notes of Christie’s calls to our office and to the Board from her patient chart, providing a written apology and developing a revised policy and procedure relating to patient phone calls, including prohibitions on monitoring privileged communications.