Man’s death at Pukatawagan Nursing Station 3 days after calling for help sparks federal review

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A 48-year-old Cree man who called the nursing station in a northern Manitoba community with an urgent medical situation died after waiting three days to be seen, prompting the federal government to conduct a formal review of patient safety.

« If those nurses could have seen him right away, or if someone had been able to see him and send him, this guy could have been alive today, » said Marcel Caribou, Murdock’s brother-in-law. Colomb, who died in the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in April.

Columbus lived with Marcel’s brother, Lawrence, and Lawrence’s partner, Judy Caribou.

On Friday, April 8, Columbus was coughing, complaining of feeling unwell, and had swollen legs and feet, Judy said.

Currently, due to staffing shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic, members of First Nations communities generally have to call nursing stations to be triaged, unless it is an emergency.

Judy said she called the nursing station late that Friday afternoon and handed the phone to Columbus, telling him to say it was an emergency.

When she called, her feet were « all swollen with water, » she said. She asked him if he had said on the call that it was an emergency.

« He said yes… [and] they said to him, ‘come on Monday morning.' »

On Monday, Judy’s daughter drove Columbus to the nursing station as soon as it opened.

Judy said they called later to say he would be evacuated to Winnipeg, over 700 kilometers south.

But before that happened, the nursing station called back.

« They said his heart stopped twice. That’s when we went to the infirmary [station]. They were trying to revive him but he couldn’t, » Judy said.

The family is still awaiting the coroner’s report for his cause of death, but believe the medical system has let him down.

« This guy was dying. At least someone could have gone to check, » said Marcel Caribou.

Columbus, who worked in the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation Public Works Department, is now known to family and friends as a friendly, kind and hardworking outdoorsman.

He was active and had no obvious medical conditions and was not taking any medications, Judy said.

Shortage of nurses

Cree Nation Chief Mathias Colomb, which has a population of about 2,300 people on the reserve, said she could not comment on Murdock Colomb’s case, but said the nursing station was under a lot of strain. pressure.

« We have a shortage of nurses right now – that’s why everyone has to phone, » Chief Lorna Bighetty said.

She would like to see walk-ins available at nursing stations without calling ahead, as was the case before the COVID-19 pandemic, but said staff need to be in place.

Indigenous Services Canada spokesperson Maddy Warlow said a new policy to improve access to primary care on reserve was released in June and the department is working with community leaders and staff to first line for its implementation.

The department is working to « address the shortage situation and ensure safe care and services, » Warlow said in a written statement.

People with non-emergency and non-emergency issues are encouraged to seek care during normal nursing station hours of operation, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If multiple people seek care at the same time, they are triaged and seen based on the severity of their illness or injury, Warlow wrote.

Healthcare workers, including nurses, are also on call at night, she said.

A formal patient safety review in the case of Murdock Columbus will be co-led by the Nursing Directorate of the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, along with an external review team comprised of nurses, community members, doctors, officials and educators from the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, the spokesperson said.

The team will review Columbus’ care and medical records, to make quality improvement recommendations to the government and provide answers to his family, Warlow wrote.

« The health and well-being of Indigenous peoples and communities is a high priority for our government, and our hearts go out to the family for their loss, » she wrote.

Concerns about access to care

A young mother from Pukatawagan said she too had difficulty accessing appropriate care at the nursing station.

Cassandra Cook brought her three-year-old daughter, Cassidy Bighetty, to the nursing station on three occasions between March and April for a soft, growing sore on the top of her head.

« [I] felt helpless, like I couldn’t do anything for her, » Cook said.

Cassandra Cook said her three-year-old daughter, Cassidy, would not let anyone touch her head, which had a growing sore. She took her to the nursing station three times, before taking her to the hospital in The Pas, where she underwent surgery. (Submitted by Cassandra Cook)

Each time, she said her daughter was assessed and sent home – once with Tylenol, another time with antibiotics.

« That’s when I said, ‘Pretty good,’ and then waited for the child tax [payments] and I got my kids ready and hopped on the train » to The Pas, more than 200 miles south, she said, where she was immediately seen at St. Anthony General Hospital.

« At first they said it was an abscess and the antibiotics he was given wouldn’t help at all, and it was a good thing we got him out. [It] would have just gotten worse,” she said.

Two days later, Cassidy underwent surgery to drain the area of ​​fluid. The area has healed and she is happy now, her mother said.

Cook said a local leader was working with her and the nursing station to review her daughter’s experience.

« The way I look at it is that for years now they’ve been waiting for someone to be really sick or for their infection to get worse before sending that person ‘out of the community for treatment, she said.

« Especially when she was a child, they should have sent her away the first time they saw her. »

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