Patient evaluations questioned following two hospital murders
Published Wednesday, June 27, 2012 7:21PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 28, 2012 10:57PM EDT
MONTREAL - Questions are being asked about the methods employed to evaluate new psychiatric patients following revelations that two people were murdered at the Notre Dame Hospital on June 16 and 21.
An autopsy determined that the victims, aged 69 and 77, died from suffocation.
Idelson Guerrier, 31, is in police custody on charges related to third and separate incident, in which he allegedly attempted to suffocate a 71-year-old woman inside the ward on June 22.
Guerrier, a resident of Joliette Quebec, was questioned by investigators and appeared at the Montreal courthouse the next day and again June 26 when a mental assessment was ordered. He’s scheduled to appear in court again June 30 and remains behind bars until then.
He is accused of having worn, used or threatened to use a weapon or imitation weapon and breaking into a place using violence.
Police have not named him as a suspect in the two murders nor have they ruled the possibility out.
Hospital staff unaware of criminal record
Hospital staff said Thursday that they were unaware that Guerrier entered carrying a serious criminal record.
Guerrier had previously plead guilty to breaking and entering, mischief and assault and has other charges pending.
He arrived at the hospital, of his own accord, on the same day the first murder was committed.
Paul Lesperance, head of psychiatry at the CHUM hospitals, said that the hospital performed its due diligence upon the patient upon his arrival but suggested that police authorities should offer more information to hospitals about possibly-dangerous patients in the future.
“We try to get the information about patients. We don’t usually get it the first or second day,” he said.
He said that administrators usually get more useful information from the patients and their families than the police.
“It might sound a bit strange but there’s confidentiality issues when the patient had confrontations with the law,” said Lesperance.
He defended the surveillance, staffing and risk-assessment of the patient.
“I don’t believe we had a breach in our treatment of the patient. We had a strange, specific case which slipped through our fingers as far evaluating that this was a potential cold-blooded killer or aggressor,” said Lesperance.
Deaths classified as homicides
The two elderly patients died of asphyxiation but only on Wednesday were their deaths classified as homicides following an autopsy.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Guy Brochu, President of the CHUM”s Union of Health Care Professionals wondered whether there might be a link between the recent staff cuts and the tragic events of recent days.
“We wonder whether more supervision would have prevented this,” said Brochu.
Staff members on the eighth floor of the Mailloux Pavillon South were instructed to reveal no details of the story.
Patients’ advocate Paul Brunet has urged the Montreal Health Agency to launch an investigation.
He called it disturbing that the deaths were initially reported to be of natural causes.
The two deaths only attracted police attention following an incident in the afternoon of June 22 in which Guerrier was accused of attempting to suffocate a 71-year-old woman who was also a patient at the facility.
Guerrier was taken into custody and given a psychological evaluation and faces the charge of attempted murder only; no charges have been filed in the murder cases.
Notre Dame Hospital director Yvan Gendron addressed the issue in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“Information transmitted to the coroner and investigators led police to investigate these two other deaths, which appeared to be natural deaths that occurred during the same period.”
About 70 family members of patients in the ward were also contacted, he noted.
Gendron described the incidents as isolated and unprecedented and said psychological counsel is being offered to staff, their families and patients.
Gendron said that adjustments could possibly be made, if required, to further bolster security.
“There are assaults from time to time, violent tendencies are part of the dangerous behaviour that leads people to the psychiatric ward,” he said.
There have now been 14 murders in Montreal in 2012, compared to 18 at the same time last year.
With files from The Canadian Press