WARNING: This story discusses suicide and may be triggering to some readers.
Vancouver Const. Warren Head said the night he brought fellow officer Nicole Chan to the hospital in January 2019 was the first time in thousands of similar such mental distress calls that he had to advocate against a patient being released.
Testifying at a coroner’s inquest into Chan’s death Thursday (Jan. 26), Head said he was shocked on the night of Jan. 26, 2019, that the mental health professionals at the Vancouver General Hospital weren’t going to keep Chan for the night.
Just hours earlier, Head had been called alongside three other Vancouver Police Department officers to Chan’s Olympic Village apartment for a person in distress. Head and his colleagues learned there that Chan had repeatedly made suicidal remarks to her boyfriend and taken some concerning actions.
At the time, Chan was on leave from the VPD relating to her mental health and an ongoing internal investigation into a sergeant in human resources who Chan said had blackmailed her into having sex with him.
Head recalled to the inquest’s jury Thursday that when Chan learned that she may be apprehended under the Mental Health Act and taken to hospital she told Head that it was pointless because she would just tell the doctors what they needed to hear to release her.
Head said he clearly relayed this to the doctor when they later ended up at Vancouver General Hospital.
“I mentioned to them that she is a police officer and that she has done this dance multiple time and knows exactly what to say.”
Head elaborated Thursday that in her work, Chan would have brought countless people into hospital herself and seen exactly how that process goes.
He said he also told the doctor that Chan had been threatening to harm herself and that he believed if she was returned home and left alone that night she may follow through on that.
To his surprise, after the doctor had spoken alone with Chan, they told Head that she could be released and had a good treatment plan already in place.
In the thousands of Mental Health Act apprehensions he had been a part of since joining VPD in 2012, Head told the inquiry he could think of maybe one or two times before the night with Chan that a patient hadn’t been kept overnight in hospital.
“I also felt like this was a more serious circumstance than some of the other ones. I personally felt like she was potentially a danger to herself.”
The jury heard during testimony from witnesses earlier in the week that other officers at the hospital got in touch with VPD’s consulting psychologist Randy Mackoff that night and he advised them to ensure the doctor knew Chan had a history of trying to end her life. Those officers said that information was relayed, but that the doctor still chose to release Chan.
Mackoff testified that he didn’t try to speak with the doctor directly, because in his experience outside expertise is rarely, if ever, welcomed by hospital mental health staff.
Both the hospital social worker and psychiatrist who spoke with Chan on that night are scheduled to testify on Friday.
The inquest, which is not intended to place blame and instead have a jury create recommendations to prevent similar deaths from happening again, is anticipated to continue into next week.
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.
Other resources include: Canada Suicide Prevention Service at Toll free: 1-833-456-4566. You can also text 45645 or visit the online chat service at crisisservicescanada.ca.
Some warning signs include suicidal thoughts, anger, recklessness, mood changes, anxiety, lack of purpose, helplessness and substance use.