Family says Saskatchewan hospital’s refusal to immediately treat deaf, mute Cree man hastened death

Hospital refused to provide immediate care because health card had expired

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A 75-year-old deaf and mute man from Onion Lake Cree Nation died Monday in a Saskatchewan hospital that initially refused to give him immediate care because his health card had expired, according to a family member.

Rene Whitstone died at 12:50 p.m. local time at the Lloydminster, Sask., hospital. He had been unresponsive for about 24 hours and had not eaten solid food since last Thursday.

“I can’t describe how I’m feeling, lots of things going through my mind,” said nephew Grant Whitstone. “I am saddened by the loss. He was a very, very cool guy.”

Whitstone said he believes his uncle Rene Whitstone may still be alive if he had received immediate medical care after he arrived at the hospital in an ambulance last Tuesday. The frail man had been found on the floor of his home by a family member who called the ambulance.

“He would have had a better chance at life in my mind,” said Grant Whitstone. “It’s discrimination, racism, you name it…I had to pay cash before they even looked at him.”

Whitstone said he was forced to pay $100 cash before hospital staff would administer the initial blood work and X-rays for his ailing uncle.

“In any emergency situation, the priority should be to take care of the patient whatever type of emergency it is and in this case they failed to do that,” he said.

Following the blood work and X-rays, Whitstone says hospital staff, including doctors, would not administer any further medical care for his uncle until his health card was finally renewed over six hours after the ailing man first arrived at the hospital.

“They said, no, we want to make sure these are taken care of first before they proceed,” said Whitstone.

Whitstone said he contacted Onion Lake Cree Nation’s health director who told the hospital any medical expenses would be guaranteed by the band. That wasn’t good enough, said Whitstone.

Onion Lake Cree Nation health director Albert Jimmy said the incident caused him great concern.

“I was told they wouldn’t examine or treat him before the validation (of the health card) came through,” said Jimmy. “All Saskatchewan people are supposed to be taken care of and it happens sometimes that elders, they overlook the sticker that is mailed to renew their card and this must have happened. This person has a disability, he doesn’t hear and can’t talk and never went to school.”


Grant Whitstone says his uncle Rene Whitstone may still be alive if hospital had given him immediate health care. Photo courtesy of Grant Whitstone.
Grant Whitstone says his uncle Rene Whitstone may still be alive if hospital had given him immediate health care. Photo courtesy of Grant Whitstone.

Marge Nicholson, quality of care coordinator with the Prairie North Health Region, which oversees the hospital, said she doesn’t believe anything was done wrong after her initial review of the case.

“As far as I can see, it has been a whole misunderstanding of what was done in emergency. He did not go straight up to a ward, but they did look after him in the emergency,” said Nicholson. “He got very good care.”

Nicholson said Rene Whitstone was given a bath by nursing staff before his health card was processed.

Grant Whitstone said this is not true. He said his uncle was only given a bath and put on IV after the health card issue was settled.

“That is absolutely false, they didn’t even proceed to move on anything until that health card was approved,” he said. “They brought him in, they put him in the standard emergency room and then they told my aunty to take him to register him and that is when the administrator said at the registry that they couldn’t tend to him because his health card expired.”

Whitstone said he has filed a complaint with the hospital and he plans to file additional complaints with the Saskatchewan medical association and with the health ministry.

He is scheduled to meet with Nicholson on Wednesday.

Whitstone said his uncle, who had a trap line north of Onion Lake, was a traditional man who did not trust Western medicine.

“He was just a simple man living a simple life, you know,” said Whitstone.

The Lloydminster hospital also serves Alberta residents because the community straddles the provincial boundary.

Onion Lake sits about 50 kilometres north of Lloydminster.

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