Family of patient in Dr. Arvind Singh case speaks out against ‘solitary confinement’

Relatives of a woman with advanced Huntington’s disease who was at the center of a recent decision by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Prince Edward Island say they feel attacked for speaking out.

A written decision by the college has cleared Summerside psychiatrist Dr. Arvind Singh of wrongdoing in Laurel Hurst’s care, and found fault with the testimony and behavior of the woman’s father, who was a key witness at a misconduct hearing earlier this year.

“I was stunned,” Stephen Hurst said in a telephone conversation Monday with CBC News. “All the evidence brought forward by trained experts was, from my point of view, discounted and ignored.…

“The whole purpose of the hearing was to assess, review and judge the behavior of Dr. Singh and not myself. But unfortunately my behavior has been brought out and I have been vilified, in my opinion.”

On Wednesday, the lawyer who prosecuted the misconduct case against Singh filed legal papers seeking to have the college’s hearing committee decision overturned in PEI Supreme Court.

Laurel Hurst was in the care of Dr. Arvind Singh while she was a patient in the mental health unit of Prince County Hospital. (Submitted by Wedgewood Manor)

The application for a judicial review calls on the court to nullify the decision, send it back to the hearing committee, and find Singh guilty of professional misconduct.

The allegations focused on Singh’s actions while he provided care to Laurel Hurst in the mental health unit of Prince County Hospital (PCH) for a 16-month period beginning in January 2017.

Among other things, Singh was accused of locking Hurst in the “high-risk room” of the mental health unit as a form of “behavior modification therapy” intended to punish Hurst’s bad behavior and teach her to behave better.

The hearing committee of the college rejected all allegations against Singh, according to its written decision, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News. (The college has said the written decision will be published on its website after the appeals period has ended.)

Stephen Hurst, right, with his wife Janet-Rose Hurst in March 2022. ‘The system always defaults to protecting its own,’ he told CBC News this week. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

In doing so, it thing to discount testimony from an expert psychiatrist who reviewed the case and was critical of Singh’s methods. It also rejected findings from a separate investigation by Health PEI that was also critical of Singh.

The 50-page decision includes extensive criticism of Stephen Hurst, however.

Those criticisms include comments on:

  • Hurst’s interactions with hospital staff.
  • The amount of time Hurst spent outside of Canada during his daughter’s time at Prince County Hospital.
  • Hurst’s reliance on his handwritten notes during his testimony at the hearing in March of 2022.
  • Apparent inconsistencies in his testimony.
  • Apparent revisions made to the notes on which he relied.

“We all know that when somebody has the courage to stand up against the system … it always defaults to protecting its own,” said Hurst. “It starts the process by investigating itself, which is like asking the fox in the henhouse … it’s just wrong.”

Daughter defends Hurst

Huntington’s disease is a genetic neurological disorder that causes physical and mental disability, including dementia-like symptoms. Stephen Hurst’s first wife, Glenda, died of the disease. Two of his four daughters currently live with it.

A woman with glasses speaks in her living room.
‘The college deliberately took the opportunity to attack my father’s character,’ said Jenna Robertson, one of Laurel Hurst’s three sisters. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

“He is in a tremendous amount of pain, and sometimes this affects his ability to communicate effectively,” Jenna Robertson, one of Hurst’s daughters who does not have Huntington’s Disease, said about her father.

“There’s things that he could have done differently. But the point is, this report is not about my dad. This report was supposed to be about Dr. Singh, and the college deliberately took the opportunity to attack my father’s character.”

Robertson calls the use of the high-risk room in the mental health unit of PCH “solitary confinement.” She wants the practice stopped, and said she is raising awareness on social media.

“I want to ban it so that the use of solitary confinement cannot be used on people who are mentally and physically disabled,” she said. “We don’t even subject prisoners in Canada to this type of treatment because that’s how damaging it is, yet we continue to allow it in hospitals for people that don’t have the capacity to understand.”

Patient ‘remains very traumatized’

Laurel Hurst, 40, now lives at Wedgewood Manor in Summerside.

“My daughter remains very traumatized over being locked up and how she was treated by the PCH staff and Dr. Singh,” said Stephen Hurst.

Dr. Arvind Singh, at right, was cleared of all allegations in an Aug. 17 written decision from the hearing committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of PEI, following a 10-day hearing earlier this year. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

He believes media coverage has added to his family’s distress. He may consult a lawyer about possible next steps.

Robertson told CBC News she understands the challenges health-care providers faced in Laurel Hurst’s case.

“I am grateful for those who have helped look after my sister because I will be the first to say she can be chaotic,” she said. “She’s difficult to deal with. I’ve lived with her my whole life. I understand the chaos that it brought to the PCH.

“But that doesn’t make it okay to just lock somebody up. It just doesn’t.”

The College of Physicians and Surgeons has not responded to a request for comment from CBC News.

The family of Dr. Arvind Singh declined comment. They said they would reach out when Dr. Singh is ready to speak.

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