The family of a woman with bipolar disorder who walked away from a Saskatchewan hospital and was later found dead want to know how she was able to leave the facility without staff intervening.
Karen Ireland, 50, “only cared about other people forever,” said her younger sister, Ruth Desjarlais.
Ireland also needed treatment: She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder more than two decades ago and was in and out of hospital frequently, her sister told CBC News.
On Tuesday evening, Ireland was in distress and was admitted to the Southeastern Integrated Care Center in Moosomin, Saskatchewan, a small town about 210 kilometers east of Regina, her sister said.
At approximately 7:45 a.m. the next day, the RCMP received a report that Ireland was missing.
“She may appear confused or agitated at times,” Mounties wrote in a press release Wednesday morning, adding that she was last seen wearing only a hospital gown, pajama pants and without shoes.
Ireland’s body was found later that afternoon less than a mile from the hospital, Desjarlais said.
The family does not know the cause of death, but RCMP say foul play is not suspected.
Desjarlais says the hospital should have been aware of the condition in Ireland – she had been admitted to Moosomin Hospital on several occasions in the past – and taken precautions to ensure she did not leave .
“He’s a vulnerable person. Anyone who has any experience with any type of mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, don’t let them get away,” Desjarlais said.
“You should watch the person wandering around the hospital, confused.”
Health authority launches review
Ireland’s family said they believe they can rely on the hospital to keep them safe. Instead, Desjarlais thinks the hospital neglected her.
“You can’t do much as a family and then you have to start relying on outside resources. And to my knowledge, that’s what hospitals are for,” Desjarlais said tearfully.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said it “sends its condolences to the family and loved ones affected by this very tragic event.”
“The SHA is committed to ensuring the physical, psychological, social, cultural and environmental safety of everyone every day. Accordingly, a formal and comprehensive review of this case has been initiated,” a spokesperson for the health authorities wrote in a statement to CBC. .
Desjarlais hopes changes will be made to healthcare facilities – including better training and security – to ensure that what happened to Ireland never happens again.
Ireland was the middle child of seven siblings and is survived by one son and two grandchildren.
“Karen would look after us younger siblings,” Desjarlais said. “She was our role model. She was a bit of a prankster. She liked to play tricks and she had a very kind heart.”
His family is feeling a mountain of emotions, including grief, sadness and anger, Desjarlais said.
The family are preparing for their funeral and have launched a GoFundMe page to help with funeral costs.