No aboriginal services staff on when man died during a 34-hour wait in ER

WINNIPEG – There were no aboriginal services staff working the weekend a First Nations man died during a 34-hour wait at a Winnipeg emergency room.

Aboriginal services worker Matilda Patrick told an inquest into the death of Brian Sinclair that no one in her department works weekends at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre.

Patrick, who acts as a liaison between aboriginal patients and staff, said she worked with Sinclair in 2007 when he lost both his legs to frostbite after being found frozen to church steps in the dead of winter.

At the time, she said he was quiet and worried about where he was going to live when he was discharged from the hospital.

“He was very soft-spoken. At times, it was hard to hear him talk but I understood what he was saying,” she said Wednesday. “He asked to speak to a social worker.”

Patrick said she wasn’t told when Sinclair was discharged, nor is she always informed when an aboriginal patient is admitted to hospital. She said she found out about Sinclair’s death in September 2008 from the media.

Sinclair was referred to hospital on Friday, Sept. 19, 2008 by a clinic doctor because he hadn’t urinated in 24 hours. The double-amputee is seen on security footage wheeling himself into the hospital emergency department and speaking to a triage aide.

After the triage aide writes something down on a pad of paper, Sinclair is seen wheeling himself into the waiting room where he was discovered dead 34 hours later. While he waited, Sinclair vomited several times and was given a bowl but was never examined by medical staff. By the time he was discovered, rigor mortis had set in.

Sinclair died of a treatable bladder infection caused by a blocked catheter.

Patrick said she learned the hard way never to wake a sleeping patient because they are usually unco-operative. It was common to see people take shelter in the emergency room, she said.

“Sometimes, patients will come in beaten up or intoxicated,” Patrick said. “They just let the person sleep it off and then discharge them. At first it bothered me a bit that the patient knows they shouldn’t drink when it’s cold outside. But it would bother anyone, not just me.”

She told inquest judge Tim Preston he should recommend aboriginal services be staffed seven days a week.

The inquest also heard from a patient who was triaged around the same time Sinclair arrived at the hospital. Kathy Boddy said she remembered Sinclair from the waiting room — not because he was drawing attention to himself but because he was a double-amputee in a wheelchair.

“I recall him having his head down. I thought he was just resting,” she said. “He just stuck in my mind that day.”

Boddy said she was told by nursing staff she would likely be waiting a long time for care and ended up leaving without being seen.

“It was really busy,” she said. “The waiting room was quite full.”

The inquest continues for the rest of the month and is expected to hear from the couple who first noticed Sinclair was dead and tried to alert security.

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