Insecure hospital defends its secure medical unit

Hospital officials are befuddled by policy questions after a psychiatric patient walked out of the secure medical unit on Sunday afternoon and was lost for days in the woods.

Hospital officials are befuddled by policy questions after a psychiatric patient walked out of the secure medical unit on Sunday afternoon and was lost for days in the woods.

People should focus on the woman’s rescue, said Whitehorse General Hospital spokesperson Val Pike on Wednesday.

“That’s where the story should be, not about a patient who went missing,” she said. “They had 38 people out on the trails last night looking for this woman. I mean, that’s incredible for a town this size.”

“Yeah, we weren’t happy with it. We were worried for her health. But the focus of your story should be on the rescue efforts.”

Kathreen Denbrok slipped from the secure medical unit and walked out of the hospital’s main entrance at 2:37 p.m. on Sunday.

She was wearing blue hospital pajamas, hospital booties, a sweater and a toque.

The 37-year-old Denbrok was found on Tuesday by a 13-year-old boy fishing on Hidden Lakes. After the sighting was reported, RCMP expanded the search to the area, which they had no plans to examine.

When found at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Denbrok had been missing for more than two days.

Initially, she had been brought to the secure medical unit involuntarily under the Yukon’s Medical Health Act.

She was deemed to be at risk of harming herself.

“I’m not trying to be miserable, but it seems like all the media are like, ‘Oh my God, there’s nothing else happening in town so I’m going to focus on the bad things that the hospital is doing,” said Pike. “And that’s not where this should be going at all.

“Patients don’t choose to have mental health issues. So let’s give this woman her privacy and not make her situation any worse than it already is.”

A patient walking out the front door dressed in pajamas isn’t unusual, said Pike

Patients go out to get fresh air or have a smoke all the time.

Denbrok probably slipped out after someone opened the unit’s locked door and didn’t close it properly, said Pike.

People come and go through the “secure” door all the time, she added.

Staff come and go, meal trays are delivered, clean and dirty laundry is brought in and out and family members often come in to visit patients.

Many patients are also allowed to come and go as they please.

No one guards the door.

“This is not a jail, not a forensic psychiatric unit or anything like that,” said Pike. “It’s a secure unit.”

Hospital staff noticed Denbrok was missing from her room, and, at 2:45 p.m., a missing patient alert – a code yellow – was called.

The RCMP was notified at 3:30 p.m.

Thus began the search of the trails and bush area beside the hospital.

When nothing was found, police searched downtown and along the Yukon River.

Then, on Tuesday, after she’d spent two nights in the woods, police and rescue teams combed the Hidden Lakes area and finally found Denbrok near Schwatka Lake.

The hospital isn’t releasing much information about the woman’s health after two days in the bush, citing confidentiality.

“She’s been returned and she’s in stable condition, and that’s all we’re prepared to say,” said Pike.

The secure medical unit was opened on March 31, 2010.

It was created by reconfiguring existing hospital beds, creating two seclusion rooms and adding a secure door.

Six mental health nurses were also hired, so that the unit could function as a psychiatric ward.

The new unit was touted as a “step in the right direction” towards dealing with the hospital’s “paltry” mental health facilities, by representatives from the Yukon Medical Association.

Although the secure unit has only been open for a little over a year, Pike can’t recall whether or not this is the first time that a patient has “eloped off”- which is hospital speak for going AWOL.

Now the secure unit has proven less than secure – leading to what could have been a very dangerous situation for the patient – what is the hospital doing to prevent this from happening again?

They’re reminding people to close the door, said Pike.

“We just talked to staff and sent out a memo saying: Please make sure that the door is closed behind you and make sure that visitors and other people coming onto the unit are closing the door as well.”

Contact Chris Oke at

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