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?


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.

Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history


Wyatt’s World for May 14, 2021.… Continue reading

Copies of the revised 2021-22 budget documents tabled in the legislature on May 14. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Liberals introduce new budget with universal dental and safe supply funding

The new items were added to secure the support of the NDP.

Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters on May 13. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Cap on rent increases will take effect May 15

The rollout of the policy is creating ‘chaos,’ says opposition

Yukon News file
A 21-year-old man is in custody after a stabbing in Porter Creek on May 14.
One man in hospital, another in custody, after alleged stabbing in Porter Creek

A police dog was used to track the suspect who was later arrested in a wooded area.

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Neil Hartling, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon president, left, said the new self-isolation guidelines for the Yukon are a ‘ray of hope’ for tourism operators. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Yukon tourism operators prepared for ‘very poor summer’ even with relaxed border rules

Toursim industry responds to new guidelines allowing fully vaccinated individuals to skip mandatory self-isolation.

A lawsuit has been filed detailing the resignation of a former Yukon government mine engineer. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A year after resigning, former chief mine engineer sues Yukon government

Paul Christman alleges a hostile work environment and circumvention of his authority led him to quit

Former Liberal MLA Pauline Frost speaks to reporters outside the courthouse on April 19. One of the voters accused of casting an invalid vote has been granted intervenor status in the lawsuit Frost filed last month. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Voters named in Pauline Frost election lawsuit ask to join court proceedings

The judge granted Christopher Schafer intervenor status

Most Read