07/11/2014 02:58 EDT | Updated 09/10/2014 05:59 EDT

External body to review Halifax special-care home where resident died: minister

HALIFAX - An independent body will review the practices of a special-care home in Halifax where a resident died in May following an altercation in a hallway, Nova Scotia's community services minister said Friday.

Joanne Bernard told a news conference the province and the Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre will find an independent agency to conduct a so-called best-practices review.

Earlier in the day, police announced they will not be laying charges following an investigation into the death at Quest, which houses adults with intellectual disabilities and other complex needs.

The RCMP said the 28-year-old man who pushed Gordon Longphee to the floor on May 11 will not be charged because he was not able to form intent.

Police said 56-year-old Longphee, who died in hospital on May 17, had pre-existing conditions that played a role in his death, which was deemed a homicide.

Bernard said an internal investigation under the Protection for Persons in Care Act found Longphee and another resident were in a hallway with staff members when there was "physical contact" and "one pushed the other."

The minister said proper safety protocols were being followed at the time.

"This was a tragic accident and without intent to harm and therefore no directives will be issued related to the incident," she said.

Bernard went on to suggest that aggressive behaviour can be expected when adults with intellectual disabilities who have complex needs are housed together.

"Each individual has extremely complex and unique health and behavioural conditions and can pose a risk to themselves or others," she said. "The potential for aggressive behaviours is always possible, no matter how many safety protocols are in place."

The board of directors at Quest issued a statement saying the institution "will be pursuing additional resources to evaluate and improve our safety and security responses within all Quest services."

Soon after Longphee died, the mothers of four adult children living at Quest called for an independent probe into its operations. Brenda Hardiman was one of them.

Hardiman said her daughter, 27-year-old Nichele Benn, has been assaulted at least five times in last 18 months, and she said other residents of Quest are experiencing the same level of violence.

The problem isn't safety protocols and best practices, it's the institution itself, she said.

"The institution needs to be held accountable for the lack of supervision that allows these instances to happen," Hardiman, chairwoman of Advocating Parents of Nova Scotia, said Friday.

She said the province's Liberal government should end all referrals to Quest and other special-care homes and expedite placement of residents into the community through small-option homes, which provide support for three to four people with disabilities in community homes.

Bernard said she is committed to moving away from the institutional model, but she said that will take time, citing a "road map" for change that is spread out over the next five to 10 years.

Hardiman said that's not good enough.

"When deaths are involved, it's time to step things up a bit," she said. "Close the institutions sooner rather than later."

Cindy Carruthers, a co-ordinator with People First Nova Scotia, agreed.

"Most other provinces in Canada have de-institutionalized," she said. "These large institutions are not effective. They exacerbate assaults and abuse. We would like to see them closed."

Carruthers said the problems with violence at Quest and other special-needs institutions is not new, citing a series of media reports that raised concerns in 2009.

In the meantime, Carruthers said she would like to see a more effective safety strategy at Quest, something she hopes the independent review will address.