CAMROSE, Alta. (Canadian OH&S News)
Following the death of a mental health care worker two years ago, Alberta’s prosecution service has decided not to proceed with occupational health and safety charges.
On Feb. 13, 2011, caregiver Valerie Wolski, 41, was suffocated while she was caring for a mentally impaired man at his home in Camrose, Alta. Terrence Saddleback, 25, was charged with manslaughter, but was later found to be mentally unfit to plead and stand trail [COHSN, May 21, 2012].
“It was the decision of the Crown prosecutor not to proceed with oh&s charges in this case,” Alberta’s Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General spokesperson Michelle Davio wrote in an email. “The Crown reviewed all the evidence and determined that the criteria the Prosecution Service uses to determine whether to proceed with charges were not met,” Davio said, adding that there will be a fatality inquiry into Wolski’s death, but a date has not yet been set.
Following her death, Alberta Human Services issued orders to Wolski’s employer, the Canadian Mental Health Association, to produce documents related to training materials and work procedures, although further details were not available. However, police reports pointed to Saddleback’s extensive history of assaulting workers “by attacking them without warning and pulling their hair.” For example, in one particularly violent outburst, five police officers, a hospital worker, handcuffs and pepper spray were needed to subdue him.
Rachel Notley, the Alberta NDP’s MLA for Edmoton-Strathcona and the party’s Alberta Human Services critic, alleges that the provincial government also recommended orders to be written against the contractor, the Persons with Developmental Disabilities Program Central Region Community Board, but it was successfully appealed. “The decision of that successful appeal has not yet been publicly released. We should find out exactly why it is no-one is being held responsible for this,” she argued.
NDP wants public inquiry into mental health services
The Alberta NDP is calling on the government to release the April 2012 appeal decision from the Occupational Health and Safety Council, to expedite the fatality inquiry and to conduct a larger public inquiry into mental health services in the province.
“This is a really urgent problem and waiting around four or five years for a fatality inquiry is not good enough,” she said. “What this all relates to, however, is a much larger systematic problem that exists in Alberta.”
A little more than a year after Wolski was killed, another caregiver in Camrose was killed on the job. Shortly after 9 p.m. on May 12, 2012, officers from the Camrose Police Service were called to the Marler Supported Independent Living home, part of Camrose Community Connections, in response to the homicide of 61-year-old Dianne McClements. When they arrived, the body of the support worker was found in the downstairs area of the four-suite duplex, which helps teenagers who need help to live independently, said Camrose Police Service spokesperson Inspector Lee Foreman.
An autopsy concluded that McClements died of “multiple sharp injuries,” and a 17-year-old boy, a resident of the home, was arrested the day after the incident in Vermillion, Alberta, about 140 kilometres from Camrose. He was charged with second-degree murder and theft of the worker’s vehicle.