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The Halifax Examiner has learned that a staff person at the East Coast Forensic Hospital is presumed to have contracted COVID-19, and other staff at the hospital and the adjoining Burnside jail have been notified. While the two institutions are separate, guards from the jail also provide security support to the hospital.
Two weeks ago, the East Coast Prison Justice Society (ECPJ) sent an open letter to provincial officials asking that immediate measures be taken to reduce the number of people incarcerated so as to limit the impact of a possible COVID-19 outbreak in provincial facilities.
Besides calling for release of prisoners from the jails, ECPJ also called attention to the situation in the forensic hospital:
While not provincially incarcerated persons as such, patients at East Coast Forensic Hospital (which shares staff and infrastructure with CNSCF) are also subject to deprivation of liberty in conditions in which spread of COVID-19 is difficult to control. We urge NSHA officials, in cooperation with provincial community services authorities, to implement community release plans on an urgent basis. In particular, we urge Community Services authorities to ensure that ECFH patients who have received conditional discharges from the Criminal Code Review Board are provided the necessary supports and services to move into the community without delay, to protect their health and human rights, and to assist in reducing crowding and thereby relieving pressure on the correctional health care system during the pandemic.
Following up on that matter, Sheila Wilderman, co-chair of ECPJ wrote to the Criminal Code Review Board (CCRB) to underscore the urgency of the issue, specifically with regard to people confined in the forensic hospital. On March 20, Suzanne Hood, the chair of the board, responded on behalf of the board:
We acknowledge that it is incumbent on the Board to do everything we can to protect the health and safety of forensic patients during this Covid-19 crisis.
We recognize that risk to health is likely increased in the setting of confined space.
One of our objectives is to make efforts to re-integrate patients from the East Coast Forensic Hospital (ECFH) into the community as soon as possible.
The efforts of your organization to get conditionally discharged patients into suitable community placements as soon as possible is an objective with which we strongly agree.
However, we are mandated by the Criminal Code to be satisfied that the patient poses no significant risk to the safety of the public.
If we are satisfied that there is no significant risk, the patient is entitled to an absolute discharge. This often happens after the patient has successfully re-integrated into the community with various supports.
If there is evidence that the patient continues to present a significant risk, one of our options is to grant a conditional discharge.
Before some patients on conditional discharge can be considered for placement, an assessment must be done to to determine the appropriate type of placement in the community for the patient.
When the assessment is completed, the patient is eligible to be moved into the community, subject to funding from the Department of Community Services (DCS), which is not within our control.
If there were increased funding from DCS, the placement process would be expedited.
I do note however that as of March 18, (and I quote ) : “All service providers funded through the provincial Department of Community Services’ Disability Support Program — including social enterprise, day programs, supportive employment programs for adults with disabilities — are closed.”
I am advised that there are 17 patients awaiting placement to an appropriate level of care (eg. independent living support, group home, adult residential care facility, etc.). If there were suitable placements, they could be released from hospital. In addition, there are 3 patients who do not need assessments but are having difficulty finding suitable and affordable accommodation in HRM and who continue to remain at the hospital.
We will explore further the possibility of initiating reviews on our own motion, but will continue to be constrained in moving patients into the community by the lack of funding and the closure of the above-noted programs.
While we continue our work of conducting hearings, you may seek further information from the Nova Scotia Health Authority about the steps being taken at the ECFH with respect to prevention of Covid-19 infection among the in-hospital patient population which numbers approximately 55.
Suzanne Hood, Chairperson Nova Scotia Criminal Code Review Board
In short, 20 people who could immediately be removed from the forensic hospital are still housed there, simply because the provincial bureaucracy is unable to place them in the community.
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