Fernie local Travis Clapp has spoken out about mental health services available in the Elk Valley after what he described as a terrifying stay at the 12-bed psychiatric ward of the East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook.
Clapp, who suffers from anxiety and depression, was admitted to the ward in early September after weeks of mental health episodes that saw him attend the emergency ward at the Elk Valley Hospital up to five times.
“I kept going to emergency because it was the only place I could go,” said Clapp. “That seemed like the only option because there’s no mental health (service) in our hospital.”
Clapp was admitted to the psychiatric ward in Cranbrook on the recommendation of his local doctor, who he said worked hard to get him the care he needed.
But Clapp said his experience there was traumatic and triggered another episode, describing the ward in Cranbrook as bleak and under-resourced, with ‘inhumane’ staff he claimed didn’t appear to be properly trained or willing to help people like him with mental health issues.
“It’s beige, it’s bland, there’s no colour, there’s nothing. There’s just an air of ‘this is the worst place to be for this’,” said Clapp, who added that one of his triggers for episodes is loneliness – and the staff at the ward left him alone for almost the entirety of what turned out to be just a one-night stay.
Clapp, who admitted that his episodes of pronounced depression and anxiety can manifest as anger said that the nurses on staff were “dismissive” at every step.
“I don’t think I ever saw the nurses leave the nurse station unless there was time for food, or they had to deal with somebody. They were never counselling, they were never doing anything to help. They were just sort of there to do paperwork.”
Clapp, who as aphantasia – an inability to visualize images in his head – said that he regularly asked the nurses for things to do as activity such as gardening or cooking to keep him busy, but he was denied at every turn, and only given pen and paper and a deck of cards.
“They’ll give you small things – things you can’t hurt people with. Most of the time I was doing circles and sitting somewhere crying.”
Clapp’s stay at the ward was cut short after one night, after he “foolishly spat behind the nurse that was in charge as she was leaving.”
With that, he was told either he stayed in his room alone for the rest of the night or he was to be booted from the facility, but by then he was having another episode and was removed.
“I know spitting was a stupid idea and a bad choice, but I was just not there. In hindsight I would have just said bad things to her.” According to Clapp, the nurses at the ward seemingly had “no humanity” or concern for the patients there, and given his quick removal, he questioned their level of training in dealing with psychiatric patients at all.
“Don’t (send family there). It’s garbage.”
“I have reached out to everyone I thought had the power to change things,” he said, listing both the provincial and federal members and various hospital feedback numbers.
An email listing concerns sent to the office of local MLA Tom Shypitka (before the election was called) was not addressed in a satisfactory way, said Clapp.
The response, which was sent by a constituency assistant to Shypitka and seen by The Free Press, acknowledged a need for upgrades at the hospital.
“We reached out to our contacts at (Interior Health) and they did acknowledge the need for upgrades to the unit,” said the response, before directing Clapp to the Patient Care Quality Office, which he said he had already been in contact with.
When contacted by The Free Press, a spokesperson for Interor Health did not address questions about the level of care or the facilities at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital, but said it was their priority to ensure patients of the psychiatric unit received all the service and support they needed.
“If a patient or family has concerns about their care or stay at EKRH, we would ask them to contact the Patient Care Quality Office, which will investigate.”
For now, Clapp is trying to get into a mental health facility in Sidney with the help of his family in order to help with his anxiety and depression, with a hope to eventually return to school at Camosun College when classes return to in-person.
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