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Ombudsperson finds only one-third of recommendations are implemented three years after report calling for improved safeguards for people involuntarily detained in B.C. psychiatric facilities

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Victoria – Recommendations to protect the legal rights of people involuntarily admitted to psychiatric facilities across the province are still not being adequately implemented according to an investigative update released by the British Columbia Ombudsperson today.

In an update to his 2019 report,  Committed to Change: Protecting the Rights of Involuntary Patients under the Mental Health Act, Ombudsperson Jay Chalke finds in the three years following the report, only 8 of 24 recommendations have been fully implemented.

“While I am encouraged that there has been some progress, I would have expected that our mental health facilities, health authorities and provincial government would be further along in ensuring the rights of some of our most vulnerable are fully protected,” said Chalke. “Involuntary detention is an extraordinary power in the health care system and it must be done in a way that respects peoples’ rights and liberties.”

The Ombudsperson’s 2019 report resulted from an investigation into whether mental health facilities were complying with the procedural requirements for involuntary admissions under the Mental Health Act. The report found legally required admission documents were missing, late or improperly completed including forms outlining reasons for detention, treatment consent, notification of a patient’s rights and notification to relatives. In addition, in some cases, facilities used standard rubber stamps to purport to authorize treatment for individual patients instead of describing the actual treatment proposed for that specific patient. In other cases, physicians failed to explain why a person met the criteria for involuntary admission yet the patient was nonetheless admitted. Some forms lacked the necessary signatures or dates.

In today’s update, the Ombudsperson highlights that progress has been made in the development of auditing systems to increase form completion, as well as improvements to staff training and the development of guidance and standards relating to involuntary detention forms. However, based on the health authorities’ own audits, there are still significant gaps in form compliance with health authorities reporting they have completed all of the required legal forms only 42 percent of the time. The 2019 Ombudsperson investigation found all forms were completed only 28 percent of the time.

“While I am encouraged that compliance is improving, what I underscored in the 2019 report, and what I am reiterating today, is that staff in the health system must protect the legal rights of those who are involuntarily detained 100 percent of the time. This is a legal requirement under the Mental Health Act. It’s time mental health facilities started complying with the law all the time rather than only sometimes.”

Another key recommendation of the original report was the development of an independent rights advisor service. Rights advisors would work in designated facilities and provide advice to patients about the circumstances of their detention and options if they disagree with detention decisions.  In June, 2022, Bill 23, the Mental Health Amendment Act, 2022, received Royal Assent. The law, when implemented, will establish a rights advice service for patients of mental health facilities. “As recommended in our report, rights advisors are a key aspect of ensuring legal safeguards are fully in place,” said Chalke. “We urge the government to continue to work expeditiously toward the implementation of an independent rights advisory service so that people involuntarily detained know what their rights are and how to exercise them.

To read the investigative update, please click here

To read the 2019 report, please click here

To read the 2019 news release, please click here