CAMH Wants To Make It Harder For Patients To Escape Its Premises

TORONTO — A prominent Toronto psychiatric hospital vowed Wednesday to implement all recommendations made by an external panel that probed recent cases of patients with a violent history escaping the facility.

Catherine Zahn, president of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), said the hospital will build new infrastructure and change its system of patient passes.

It will also communicate more often with police and build an outdoor area enclosed by fences, she said.

Zahn said the institution had already begun taking steps to improve its processes in anticipation of the report, and will start to implement the remaining changes in the new year.

“We know that the community and our partners expected us to take swift action to restore their trust in our ability to balance protecting public safety and supporting patient recovery,” she said in a statement.

“I’m confident the recommendations will enhance our ability to do that.”

The changes are among 12 recommendations made by an expert panel after multiple people escaped from the hospital’s forensic facility, which treats people found not criminally responsible for violent crimes.

Zhebin Cong was a patient at the hospital who escaped in July and fled to China after he was found not criminally responsible for the second-degree murder of his roommate.

Later that month, Ahmed Sualim — who was found not criminally responsible in a series of violent robberies — went missing from the psychiatric hospital, though authorities were able to find him the same day.

In November, another man found not criminally responsible for aggravated assault escaped from the same facility and was found by police a day later.

Another man found not criminally responsible for assault with a weapon and possession of a weapon escaped the hospital in late November and was found and returned within 24 hours.

Watch: Earlier this year, Ontario’s premier sounded off on the case of a CAMH patient who escaped the facility. Story continues below.


Adalsteinn Brown, the health policy professor who chaired the review, said the recommendations should improve community safety and help patients complete their treatment.

“Although the risk of unauthorized leaves by patients will persist, our recommendations should help maximize patients’ return to their communities,” Brown said in a statement.

The provincial government said it welcomed the report and would review its findings.

“The panel’s recommendations will help improve the hospital’s protocols and will better protect patients and the surrounding community,” Hayley Chazan, spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said in an email.

“Our government looks forward to working alongside CAMH as we review the expert panel’s recommendations and determine how we can support their implementation.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 18, 2019.

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