Warning: This story contains details about suicide that may be distressing.
The widow of a man says he was just looking for help when he visited G.R. Baker Hospital in mid-May. But that was in apparent short supply, leaving a child without their dad and Kelly Ann Burgis with many questions.
Burgis was visiting family in Quesnel with her partner, Rocky Whitford, on Wednesday, May 12. Before arriving at their destination, Whitford said he needed to go to the hospital for help. He had been receiving mental health treatment at his hometown of Lac La Biche, Alberta, an 11-hour drive away.
“The whole drive I think he was going back and forth in his mind, take his life or get help, and he chose to get help,” Burgis said. “That was what he wanted to do.”
The next day, and three hospital visits later, Burgis said Whitford was found dead inside a GR Baker bathroom.
The BC Coroners Office confirmed they are investigating a death at the hospital on May 13.
A Northern Health Spokesperson said RCMP and the Coroners Office were called to investigate “an incident that occurred in a public washroom in a non-patient care area of GR Baker Hospital on May 13.”
Burgis said as soon as they entered the hospital, they were received poorly by what she called an overwhelmed nurse, and their treatment did not improve.
After seeing a mental health nurse, Whitford saw a doctor who organized a stay in a mental health room. Burgis claimed that doctor was dismissive of her husband’s mental health issues.
“This doctor just judged him I’m sure,” Burgis said. “Another Native person, another drug addict coming in off the street we don’t want to deal with. Another problem, let’s get rid of it, let’s wait till it goes away. I don’t want this to keep happening. How many more families is it going to happen to?”
Despite insisting on entering a safe room, Burgis said Whitford didn’t end up in the room. Three hours after being told he would be put in a safe room, Burgis received a call that Whitford had left the hospital.
“For him to ask for help was huge,” she said. “He was telling them, ‘I don’t feel safe, I need to be put somewhere safe.’”
After leaving the hospital that first time on his own, Whitford was returned to the hospital by the RCMP the next day.
“At that point, he had no hope left,” Burgis said. “He thought there was nothing that could help him.”
Later that same day, Burgis said her husband was found dead in the bathroom.
The circumstances of Whitford’s death is being reviewed by Northern Health.
“Generally, patients presenting to hospital with suicidal thoughts would be assessed by an emergency department physician and nurse, most often in collaboration with the hospital’s specialty psychiatric unit, and taking into consideration a patient’s wishes for the course of action and treatment,” the Northern Health Spokesperson said. “Additional staff and supports are provided, depending on the circumstances.”
Burgis said they would have been better off not entering GR Baker Hospital.
“It’s a cycle that keeps going,” she said. “Now we have a broken family. I have a child that has to grow up without a dad, who could possibly have mental health issues down the road and end up in the exact same situation.”
If you feel like you are in crisis or are considering suicide, please call the Crisis Centre BC suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433.
Some warning signs include suicidal thoughts, anger, recklessness, mood changes, anxiety, lack of purpose, helplessness and substance use.
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