closing doors on the mentally ill

There is much that's troubling about Kathreen Denbrok's daylight escape from the hospital's secure medical unit. Denbrok is a psychiatric patient who was admitted, involuntarily, to the facility under the Yukon's Mental Health Act.

There is much that’s troubling about Kathreen Denbrok’s daylight escape from the hospital’s secure medical unit.

Denbrok is a psychiatric patient who was admitted, involuntarily, to the facility under the Yukon’s Mental Health Act.

That is, officials put her there. We assume for her own good – they said she was a risk to her own health and welfare.

Then, with shockingly little effort, she escaped.

On a bright Sunday afternoon, clad only in pjs, a cable-knit sweater, hospital booties and a tuque, she walked out of the secure medical unit, passed the guards posted at the front door of the hospital and, apparently, vanished.

Luckily, she didn’t end up in the Yukon River, just a few hundred metres away.

Instead, she walked into the boreal forest surrounding the facility.

An hour after she ambled off, police were called.

The troubled woman’s 60-minute lead, on foot, proved too much for police.

With a police dog, searchers looked around the parking lot and the silty bluffs, following a trail that led them back behind the hospital.

There, the trail went cold, said officials.

On Sunday, police were seen driving up and down the Long Lake Road in SUVs. Sometime after 7 p.m., a group with a search dog were forming up near the Mormon church.

But eventually, the search was called off.

It was getting late, said RCMP Sgt. Don Rogers.

And the searchers were “chasing their tails out there – there are so many trails and she was all over the place,” he said.

Monday, police started walking around downtown and along the riverbank.

Tuesday, they dusted off their bikes and ATVs and started riding around the trails around the hospital.

No aerial search was conducted because the tree canopy was too dense, said Rogers.

Are you getting the picture?

Now, substitute Denbrok with a 10-year-old boy.

Do you think searchers would have called off the search because it was getting late and the subject had left a trail like a spaniel?

No.

Call us crazy, but it looks as if Denbrok was written off – considered damaged goods and unworthy of anything beyond the most cursory of search efforts.

Besides, there were no tear-stained parents pushing for better. So nothing was volunteered.

As a result, a sick woman spent two nights in the bush and, luckily, survived.

And RCMP search teams didn’t even find her.

She was found by a 13-year-old boy in the Hidden Lakes area who had the presence of mind to report what he saw. Police were not even going to search the area she was found in, which is only a few kilometres from the hospital.

The RCMP’s seeming lacklustre search isn’t the only thing that’s troubling about this case.

The second is the hospital’s response.

Had Denbrok been a young child, instead of a mentally-ill adult, it would probably be taking a little more care shoring up its secure medical unit.

When asked about Denbrok’s escape, hospital spokesperson Val Pike told reporters they were missing the point. The woman was found after a monumental search – that’s what’s important. Not the fact the mind-addled woman, who was hospitalized by the state because she posed a threat to herself, walked out of a secure unit in broad daylight because a door was left open and unattended.

There’s no problem because staff have now been reminded to close the door. (See story page 2.)

Well, forgive us, but we disagree. There is a problem.

The point is a sick woman was put in hospital care because she was not able to look after herself. In fact, she posed a risk to herself. And the hospital dropped the ball. Luckily, the story ended well.

But when the state hospitalizes a person against their will, it has an obligation to do better.

The hospital, as the facility tasked with looking after these people, must do more than simply ensure they close the door on them.