Elderly woman still hiding from VIHA

By Rob Wipond, May 2013

An update on Mia following her narrow escape from involuntary electroshock therapy

Eight months after an independent tribunal ordered her released from hospital, the Vancouver Island Health Authority is still pursuing a Saanich woman. Focus previously reported on 82-year-old Mia (“The Case for Electroshocking Mia,” November 2012), whom VIHA senior geriatric psychiatrist Dr Michael Cooper had slotted for electro-convulsive shock therapy against the wishes of her and her family. Last July, an official inquiry determined Mia needn’t be forcibly treated for depression nor even hospitalized; however, almost immediately VIHA representatives began calling, coming by the family home, and demanding that Mia check in with them. Mia, her granddaughter Michelle and grandson-in-law Russel and their children fled the city.

They’d hoped they could have quietly returned to their normal lives by now, but in March, VIHA sent a letter to Mia’s lawyer demanding “evidence” of Mia’s exact current location and that she’s undergoing “treatment of her medical conditions.” Otherwise, continues the letter, “VIHA will need access to [Mia].” The BC Mental Health Act and Adult Guardianship Act—the latter cited twice in the letter—give health authorities broad powers to search private medical records, enter homes without warrants, “use any reasonable force,” incarcerate indefinitely, and forcibly treat anyone they feel may be at risk for “physical or mental harm” or “deterioration.” Yet according to VIHA’s own records, upon discharge from hospital Mia wasn’t taking any psychiatric drugs and had no serious medical conditions. And there’s never been any suggestion that Mia is a victim of family abuse. Nevertheless, VIHA’s letter concludes, “If we do not hear from you…we will pursue assistance from the police in locating [Mia] as a missing person.”

“It’s been one thing after another,” comments Russel. Another time, he says, VIHA prompted police to contact them by suggesting Mia had secretly died. 

Mia is currently seeing a doctor, therapist, and psychiatrist, says Russel. “She’s under very, very competent care—much more competent than [VIHA’s] little horror show.” Indeed, Mia’s psychiatrist has diagnosed her with post traumatic stress disorder, says Russel. “Because of what VIHA did to her.”

“She has really bad nightmares from what happened,” says Michelle. “She’s so worried she’s going to be hunted down by the police and VIHA.” 

Russel says they’ve repeatedly given VIHA information about Mia’s status, but VIHA wants to locate her. “I think they’re scared,” says Russel. “She’s essentially evidence of their crime.” Russel and Michelle wonder if the few elderly people like Mia who have the means and wherewithal to fight back against VIHA’s poor long-term care practices are being regarded as “a first domino” that has to be stopped from falling to prevent wider rebellion, scandals, and lawsuits.

A more charitable interpretation would be that Mia’s former VIHA doctor simply still believes he knows what’s best for Mia. Of course, that’s just a nicer way of saying that VIHA is reluctant to let her escape their clutches.

The “missing person” herself tells me she’s feeling better than when we last spoke, and her family is taking good care of her. I ask about VIHA’s letter. Mia’s voice shakes. “I’m kind of scared about it,” she says softly.

Mia has begun writing about her experiences being incarcerated in hospital. “Michelle thinks it will make me feel better,” says Mia. Does it, I ask. There’s a pause. Does writing about it make you feel better? There’s a longer pause. I wonder if the cell has cut out. Finally, Mia says faintly, “I hope so.”

As I hang up, I think, if VIHA doctors truly cared, wouldn’t they understand this damage they’re doing and stop it?

Rob Wipond

The Focus feature "The case for electroshocking Mia" can be found here.