Meet Yvonne Harris, an RPN who helps reintegrate patients who are suffering from a serious mental illness and have committed a crime back into the community at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. Nurses like Yvonne help provide vital care that patients rely on.
“I am a Transitional Case Manager in the Forensic Mental Health Out-Patient Department at the hospital in Thunder Bay. I provide intensive case management to people who suffer from a severe mental illness and have come in contact with the law. Criminal charges may include murder, aggravated assault or other serious crimes.”
All of her patients have been deemed “Not Criminally Responsible” (NCR) and are under the Ontario Review Board. When they committed their crime, there is evidence they were suffering from a serious mental health condition such as psychosis due to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression or another mental illness. Instead of going to jail, they are treated on a secure Forensic Unit at a hospital. Yvonne helps them transition back into the community and live independently after they become stable.
“Once their mental health is stable, and the Ontario Review Board allows community living, I assist in helping them find housing, with their finances, or any other personal matters. I ensure that all my clients are compliant with their disposition orders. I visit them in their homes on a regular basis, make sure they are taking their medication and they are not abusing drugs or alcohol.”
Yvonne finds her job very fulfilling. The best part of her job is to watch her patients recover and have the opportunity to live life with respect and dignity.
“Patients in the Forensic Mental Health System have a huge stigma to bare. It’s sometimes very hard for them to find housing and get a job after being released from the hospital. Many people believe that when a person with a mental illness commits a crime, they should be locked up for the rest of their lives. These people do not understand that mental illness can affect any one of us, and that it IS treatable. Every individual deserves the right to receive treatment and a chance to rebuild their lives.”
Even though some of Yvonne’s patients have committed serious crimes, the rates of recidivism is very low. Criminals who do not suffer from a mental illness are much more likely to reoffend than those who suffer from a mental health condition.
“I love my job. I think it’s amazing to be able to help make a difference in another person’s life by assisting them along the difficult journey to wellness. It’s very rewarding for me to see people progress, such as seeing clients finally granted an absolute discharge after a long time under the Ontario Review Board. That’s when they are no longer seen as a risk or threat to society and can live independently. The Forensic system is also heartbreaking for patients’ families. We need to educate the public about the signs of mental illness, so that their loved ones can provide the help they need before a crime is committed. Knowledge and action may prevent an unfortunate encounter with the Judicial System.”
Learn more about the role nurses play in our healthcare system during Nursing Week.