In the halls of the B.C. Legislature, Lorraine Marr hugged the former police officer who responded to the scene where her son, Todd, died by suicide in 2009.
The emotional exchange on Wednesday (March 8) happened minutes before former-Mountie-turned-politician Elenore Sturko presented her private member’s bill to amend the Mental Health Act.
It promises to prevent suicide deaths by requiring physicians or nurses to seek more information from family members or first responders about the psychological history of individuals when considering whether to involuntarily admit and treat them.
Sturko said the proposed bill fills what she called a “significant gap” in the mental health care system, adding that it would only apply in emergency situations.
It ensures qualified medical professionals have all the information when they are making the potentially life-saving decision to certify someone under the Mental Health Act, Sturko said. While more needs to be done, this measure could come into effect quickly, she said.
Marr and her husband, Chuck Marr, were one of two families supporting Sturko’s bill on Wednesday.
Jennifer Chan’s sister Nicole Chan was on leave from the Vancouver Police Department while she dealt with mental health challenges and awaited the outcome of an internal sexual assault complaint when she died by suicide in January 2019.
Both Marr and Chan had been admitted to hospital with suicidal thoughts shortly before their respective deaths and a recently concluded inquest into Chan’s case recommended “better communication” between health-care providers, police and hospital physicians when treating patients with mental health emergencies.
Marr said she only wished she had the chance to offer input when she brought her son to hospital for help.
BC Green Party House Leader Adam Olsen, who watched Sturko’s announcement, said his party will review the proposed bill, but also signalled support.
“I think we should be moving to make this amendment,” he said. “(What) MLA Sturko has done here today is given us something to talk about and we should be moving to ensure that British Columbians receive the help when they need.”
Premier David Eby said his government is willing to look at any measures that could give physicians or nurses additional information when making that difficult decision about whether to hospitalize someone in crisis.
“These are obviously very complicated things,” he said. He added that the proposal could come with unintended consequences.
“But I certainly thank the opposition member for bringing this forward and for giving voice for those families facing this crisis,” he said.
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