Kingston community speaks out against child psychiatrist charged with historic sex crimes

Hotel Dieu Hospital, a Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) site, is one of two hospitals where Dr. Nasreen Roberts was employed in Kingston. At HDH, Roberts was the Head of Adolescent Psychiatry. Kingstonist file by Lucas Mulder.

Dr. Nasreen Roberts, a now retired child and adolescent psychiatrist who practiced within Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) and Queen’s University, was recently charged by the RCMP with two historical sex crimes. The crimes took place against a minor in Alberta between 1993 and 1994.

This event has been a catalyst for outcry against Dr. Roberts in the Kingston community. A Reddit thread for those who had children treated by Dr. Roberts at Hotel Dieu Hospital formed on Thursday, May 6, 2021, the day news outlets reported the criminal charges, now has over 84 comments detailing instances of patient mistreatment (unrelated to sexual abuse) under her care. Kingstonist has interviewed several community members about their experiences.

A timeline

Roberts completed three years of postgraduate studies at the University of Ottawa in the early 1980s.

According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), Roberts received a Hospital Practice Certificate in 1984, an Academic Practice Certificate in 1998, and transferred her class of registration to an Independent Practice Certificate in 2004.

Roberts’ certificate of registration, which enabled her to practice medicine within the province of Ontario, was expired from 1992 to 1998. The alleged sex crimes took place within this period.

An archived biography of Roberts on the Queen’s Psychiatry page states that she began teaching at Queen’s in the year 2000.

KHSC, which encompasses both Kingston General Hospital (KGH) and Hotel Dieu Hospital (HDH), and Queen’s University jointly confirmed that Roberts is retired, and stated that they are not aware of any concerns raised during her employment. Roberts resigned from her membership with the CPSO in January of 2021, relinquishing her authorization to practice medicine in Ontario.

In February 2020, the RCMP charged Roberts with two criminal offences, Sexual Assault and Sexual Exploitation. The allegations have yet to be proven in court.

The criminal charges bring to light a local case, RH (Re), 2014 CanLII 14715 (ON CCB), involving Dr. Roberts in 2014, in which the basis of a patient’s status as an involuntary patient at Kingston General Hospital (KGH) was reviewed. In this case, Roberts’ assessment of RH needing care as an involuntary patient was found to be incorrect, and was rescinded.

RH was a 16 year old patient who had been treated for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) since grade 4. He had been recently living with his father, and an altercation ensued over RH spending time playing computer games and using marijuana to sleep. Property was damaged in the home and the police were called.

RH attended a court diversion program for charges pending as a result of the altercation with his father and the damaged property within the home. Sometime after this, RH was taken to the hospital by his father after mistakenly taking more than the required amount of his ADD medication.

RH was admitted to KGH as an involuntary patient on a Form 1 by Dr. Roberts, which is a psychiatric assessment to determine whether a patient should receive further care involuntarily, voluntarily, or be discharged without further treatment. A Form 1 can only be completed by a physician if the patient is suffering from a mental disorder where there is a likely risk of harm to self, harm to others or inability to care for self.

In this case, the onus was on Roberts to satisfy the conditions for treating RH as an involuntary patient.

Roberts diagnosed RH with dysthymia, a form of long-term depression, as she said he had been unhappy for the last two years. Roberts had prescribed Zoloft as well as Olanzapine to help him sleep. She confirmed that her treatment plan was helping him, but expressed concern over RH’s release from the hospital, as he refused to live with his parents again and she feared that he would return to his gaming behaviour and use of marijuana. RH told Roberts that he would not follow up with the outpatient department to supervise his medication intake because he wanted to leave the hospital as soon as possible.

However, RH explained to the court that his parent’s divorce as well as changing schools had disrupted his life significantly and contributed to this unhappiness. He had no thoughts of harming himself. RH did not initiate the altercation with his father and never had another violent incident. RH did well when he attended school and maintained a part-time job without any issues. RH confirmed that he would stay in the hospital and receive any necessary treatment. He planned to continue taking the medication that was helping him sleep as well as the Zoloft, as “it was worth a try” to see if the medication could improve his mood.

The panel did not find satisfactory evidence that RH suffered from a mental disorder, and decided that RH was suitable for voluntary patient status as he had not be found incapable to consent to treatment. The panel unanimously moved to revoke RH’s involuntary status.

While this case is a matter of public record, Kingstonist spoke to several local residents who detailed their private experiences receiving care from Roberts at both KGH and HDH. These residents prefer to remain anonymous.

The anecdotes involve generally unprofessional behaviour on the part of Dr. Roberts spanning 15 years in Kingston.

One local woman spoke about her time in Roberts’ care at KGH in 2013. Then 14 years old, she was depressed and suicidal. The patient was treated by Roberts at KGH for approximately two weeks, and again when she became an outpatient at Hotel Dieu Hospital.

Now 21 years old, the woman has become a mental health advocate for the Kingston area, holding local events and facilitating groups where she shares her story.

“I get that most staff on the ward are not liked because some [children] don’t understand that they are just trying to help, but Dr. Roberts was the most arrogant doctor I have ever met. I can remember very clearly her [telling] me that I was not depressed, that I was not suicidal, and that I was just faking being mentally ill,” the woman said.

“I don’t believe I received appropriate care. She told me I just had ADHD and that I needed to grow up.”

Another community member was treated by Roberts in November of 2010 at Hotel Dieu Hospital at age 13. The woman reflected on several one-on-one sessions with the then-Doctor that she said were “incredibly damaging to my self-image.”

“I told her about my depression and suicidal ideation which involved plans at the time and I still remember her word-for-word telling me ‘you’re not suicidal. You’re just stupid.’”

“Her attitude was dismissive and she denied that I had any mental health issues. She provided us with no plan and told my parents and myself that I was fine, and required no further treatment. I received no formal diagnosis or plan. Just a rejection from the unit with no resolution at all.”

In 2006, a Kingston mother brought her 4 year old son to see Roberts at Hotel Dieu Hospital. She claims Roberts was “rude and aggressive,” in front of the child, asking “is he always this annoying?”

The mother said Roberts initially diagnosed him with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), then changed the diagnosis to ADHD. The mother said the possibility of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) was also discussed. Ultimately, Roberts retracted her decision and left the child undiagnosed. 

The mother recalls Roberts saying “he is choosing to act this way – there is nothing wrong with him.”

“I wouldn’t call it care,” the mother said, explaining that she believes her son was mistreated and over-medicated at the time, despite the lack of a clear diagnosis. “Risperdal was her favourite.”

“I filed several written complaints over the years, but they obviously never went anywhere,” she added. “I requested a different doctor and was told there isn’t another one. So our choices were abuse or no mental health care. We chose no care.” The mother ended up paying to have her son and his two brother assessed at the Queen’s Psychology Clinic in 2018, where the family had a more positive experience. However, it was a 12 year process to have the child properly diagnosed with both Autism and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD).

According to a report from the Coalition of Ontario Psychiatrists, there is a widely acknowledged shortage of psychiatrists practicing in Ontario. A 2010 forecasting model estimated a provincial shortage of 200 psychiatrists, a number that is expected to increase to 350 by 2030.

“Child psychiatry experiences even deeper gaps between the supply of psychiatrists and demand for services,” the report reads.

“An estimated 70 per cent of mental health problems are onset during childhood, and early intervention is key to preventing their condition from exacerbating and leading to poorer health, social, and economic outcomes in later life.”

Kingston has a shortage of family physicians, with an estimated 139 practicing medicine in the city as of 2020 – close to 30, 000 residents are without a family doctor. However, only five child and adolescent psychiatrists are listed on the South East Healthline for Kingston and area, including Dr. Roberts.

Roberts has already had several court appointments since the two criminal charges were filed against her. She is set to return to court on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.

After publication, KHSC reached out to Kingstonist with the following joint statement from KHSC and Queen’s University:

“Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) and Queen’s University are aware of charges against Dr. Nasreen Roberts that date back to alleged events in the early 1990s in Alberta, which is posted publicly on the College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPSO) website. We take allegations of any criminal behaviour from individuals associated with KHSC and Queen’s very seriously. Our first priority is always the safety of our patients, families, learners, employees and faculty members. Once informed of the allegation, KHSC conducted a confidential internal review. We are not aware of any complaints of this nature raised with KHSC or Queen’s during Dr. Robert’s time at both institutions.

Patients and families with concerns can contact KHSC’s patient relations department, which reviews all cases brought to its attention. KHSC cannot discuss any specific concerns or experiences out of respect for the confidentiality of our patients and because the privacy of our patients is protected by law. We also cannot comment further on any matters that are currently before the courts.

Dr. Nasreen Roberts was a member of the clinical care team within Kingston Health Sciences Centre’s Child and Youth Mental Health Program and also held an appointment with Queen’s University. Please note that she has not worked at either institution during the time since KHSC and Queen’s first learned of these allegations in September 2020.”

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