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Published online at on March 9, 2011.

Linda Hoang, Global News: Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Villa Caritas officials were warned about potential dangers before patient suicide

Staff at Edmonton’s newest geriatric mental health facility were warned that certain items in Villa Caritas could help patients commit suicide, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says.

AUPE toured Villa Caritas on Jan. 10 to determine the building’s health and safety and detailed their concerns in a pre-occupancy hazard assessment.

Union officials say they warned Villa Caritas managers that patients could potentially kill themselves on coat hooks and closet rods, and that warning came about a month before an elderly man committed suicide at the facility by hanging himself from a hook on the wall.

“The hazards to the patients were hooks and closet bars that could assist a person in doing harm to themselves,” said Dennis Malayko, health and safety representative for the AUPE.

“I also raised concerns with what I recognized as potential hazards to our staff, including bars and toilet lids that could be removed and used as weapons.”

On Tuesday, NDP Leader Brian Mason brought information forward about the senior’s suicide to the public, just a day after the facility’s grand opening.

Villa Caritas was originally meant to be a long-term care facility for seniors.

Mason said the facility was not intended for pyschiatric patients and as such, is filled with “blind spots” — like the hook — that could aid in suicide and alleges that the province “hid” the suicide from the public and argued the premier should not have pressed ahead with the opening just weeks after the tragedy.

But Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said he has no concerns about the safety of Villa Caritas.

Covenant Health spokeswoman Rayne Kuntz confirmed on Tuesday that there was a death at the facility, but insisted Villa Caritas is safe and appropriate for high-needs psychiatric patients.

Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson could not immediately say whether the province has a policy detailing appropriate design for psychiatric facilities.

The construction of Villa Caritias has been surrounded by controversy.

Originally meant to be a long-term care facility for seniors, it was then announced that it would be the largest mental health facility in Alberta, then finally it was decided it would become a geriatric psychiatric facility.

The changes meant the province added millions into bringing the facility up to standards required for seniors with mental illness.

Villa Caritas is a 150-bed facility located at 16515 88 Ave.

Since 2006, at least 12 psychiatric patients in Alberta have committed suicide or been suspected of committing suicide at hospitals and psychiatric facilities. Four of those patients were in the care of Alberta Hospital.

Click here to read the article on the Global Edmonton website.

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