HALIFAX - A therapist says leaving people with intellectual disabilities in a Halifax psychiatric hospital keeps them stuck in "an unnatural setting" where their skills and hopes fall away.

Nicole Robinson, a behavioural therapist who works at the Emerald Hall unit of the Nova Scotia Hospital, testified today at a human rights hearing in Halifax about her patients and the unit.

The inquiry is considering whether the human rights of 46-year-old Beth MacLean and 45-year-old Joseph Delaney were breached when the province refused to move them from the acute care facility into small options homes due to a lack of appropriate spaces.

Robinson told the inquiry helping patients like MacLean and Delaney is more difficult in the hospital because skills ranging from table manners to conflict avoidance need to be learned and transferred into normal and calmer settings in a community home.

She also testified that seven out of the nine people still at Emerald Hall have been medically discharged for years and remain primarily because there's no community home for them to be transferred to.

The provincial government has said it is preparing more small options homes, but that it can't place patients with more complex needs until homes with safe and appropriate levels of care are available.