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VGH detained and drugged man against his will
Judge finds patient was committed without proper paperwork
Darah Hansen
Vancouver Sun

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A 49-year-old West Vancouver man who was forcibly medicated and detained against his will in a Vancouver General Hospital psychiatric ward for five days in 1998 has been awarded $15,000 in damages by the B.C. Supreme Court.

Stephen Norman Mullins was "seized without explanation, assaulted and physically overpowered in the hallway of a public hospital, dragged to a cell, stripped naked by cutting off his clothes, forcibly medicated, and his continued compliance assured by jail-like security," Justice Ronald Holmes determined in written reasons for judgment released Friday.

And while the judge found doctors and security officials named in the lawsuit were not acting out of malice towards Mullins, "I have found their actions were not reasonable and were, in fact, negligent, in breach of the [provincial Mental Health] Act."

The case dates to May 9, 1998 when Mullins voluntarily went to the hospital with symptoms of extreme anxiety. According to the judgment, the initial attending emergency room physician determined he was not suffering from a serious mental illness requiring involuntary committal under the Mental Health Act, but suggested Mullins wait to see a psychiatrist who could better diagnosis his health concerns. With the okay of the doctor, Mullins left the hospital briefly to participate in a 10-kilometre charity run, but later checked back in to hospital for further observation, as was recommended.

At that time, Mullins was seen by a second doctor, who diagnosed him as suffering a manic episode that required immediate treatment. The doctor left the hospital room to find a psychiatrist, but, before departing, secured the room with guards, the judgment states.

According to the judge, Mullins later tried to open the door to his hospital room and was greeted by a group of uniformed security personnel, who ordered him to remain in the room, though no involuntary committal certification had been signed at the time, a requirement for involuntary detention under the Mental Health Act.

According to the judgment, Mullins was pinned to the ground by the guards when he again tried to leave the room. He was then pulled to his feet, and dragged down the hall to an isolation room in the psychiatric ward.

Designed to provide zero stimulation to its occupant, the isolation room "is as unpleasant as most jail cells," the judge wrote.

At that point, Mullins was held face down on the mattress, his clothes cut from his body and his feet tied with a sheet to provide a temporary mobility restraint until security staff could leave the room and lock the door. He was later forcibly injected with an anti-psychotic drug that put him into a deep sleep.

According to the judge, security staff did not use excessive force in the incident, nor did he question the doctors' diagnosis of mania. Instead, the case came down to a violation under the Mental Health Act, because no involuntary committal certificates had been signed, leaving staff without the authority to arrest or detain Mullins.


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