Although her department does not oversee health care in the province’s jails, Justice Minister Lena Metlege Diab says she plans to meet with the health minister and staff to ensure people are getting the services they need.
Diab made the comments a week after a Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice issued a ruling that criticized staff at the Burnside Park jail for not providing a woman access to medication to help treat her bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder while she awaited resolution of her case.
Justice Gerald Moir found officials at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth violated Kesha Melissa Casey’s constitutional right to security by not giving her a mental-health assessment and subsequent medication. Casey went 16 days without medication before a guard persuaded nurses to provide her with treatment.
Dr. Risk Kronfli, psychiatrist in chief for the provincial Offender Health Services Program, said he was surprised by the ruling but the health authority’s legal department would issue an official response following an internal review. Speaking in general, Kronfli said every person admitted is screened by nursing staff and any medications they are receiving at the time are reviewed.
“If a person is receiving medication that can be confirmed from outside sources … any medication that they are on is automatically prescribed.”
Kronfli said sometimes a person may say they are on a medication, but nursing staff cannot confirm with doctors or pharmacies that the drugs have been recently dispensed. An assessment with a doctor is then arranged, which usually takes about a week; for mental health cases, the wait time is less than two weeks.
“It’s a very structured system. The guidelines are very, very clear. … I have to say, we’re kind of quite satisfied with our system.”
It would be “almost impossible” for someone authorized to have medication while in jail to not receive it, Kronfli said.
Tory justice critic Allan MacMaster has previously called for an independent review of operations at the jail.
“Government is running the institution; it should ensure that if something happens that we get to the root of the problem.”
MacMaster also raised concerns about the Justice Department issuing one-page incident reports following internal reviews.
“It tells us little about what’s going on to correct matters so that those incidents don’t happen again. It’s hard for us to have faith that the institutions are being run as good as they can be.”
Diab said the province has “the most open process” in the country when it comes to reporting incidents. There is much more information than summaries released following an investigation, she said.
Although there are “long-standing issues” with the system and “no quick fixes,” Diab said that in the last 18 months new staff have joined management and there is $4 million in this year’s budget to implement a direct supervision model at the jail, giving staff better monitoring capabilities when the work is completed in two years.
There is also $2 million budgeted for security upgrades and $140,000 was recently spent for new protective gear for staff. Overcrowding is no longer a problem, she said, since the 150-bed jail in Pictou County opened.