B.C. health authority denies negligence, racism involved in death of Haisla baby  

The parents refused doctor’s care and left Kitimat hospital, claims statement of defence

Family members take the baby's remains home from the funeral chapel on Feb. 26. (Family photo)


A northern British Columbia health authority denies negligence or racism played a role in the stillborn death of a baby girl on January 28.

A statement of defence for Northern Health Region, which oversees the Kitimat General Hospital (KGH) and Mills Memorial Hospital (MMH) in Terrace named in the baby’s parents’ civil suit, also denies it refused the couple medical care.

“(The doctor) informed the plaintiffs that he needed to assess (mother Sarah) Morrison to determine whether she could deliver at KGH or not,” said the statement obtained by APTN News.

“In response, (the father Ronald) Luft began yelling and alleged that the plaintiffs were being refused service.”

Morrison, who is Haisla, and her non-Indigenous partner, Luft, accused medical professionals at both hospitals in a statement of claim last month of subjecting them to negligent and racist behaviour in the death of their firstborn child.

Systemic racism

Their allegations came only weeks after the release of two reports critical of systemic racism in B.C.’s healthcare facilities. Northern Health is now investigating these specific allegations.

The statement of defence said KGH could only handle low-risk births and referred high-risk cases to MMH or other facilities.

“The plaintiffs refused (the doctor’s) request to assess Ms. Morrison and exited KGH,” the statement said.

A spokesperson for Northern Health has told APTN that KGH has labour and delivery facilities but it’s up to the attending physician to determine how to use them.

The statement confirmed the couple, who lives in Kitimat, returned to the hospital via ambulance just after 7 p.m., where an emergency nurse welcomed them to be assessed at KGH, which they allegedly refused.

A green snowsuit awaited the birth of Baby Luft. Family photo

“The plaintiffs did not re-enter KGH but left in a private vehicle,” the claim said.

The vehicle was driven by Morrison’s father who rushed the couple to Terrace, which their statement of claim repeats.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

Still at KGH, the statement of defence said the mother’s contractions were assessed as “mild” by a nurse prior to a visit from the doctor on call.

“She spent several minutes trying to find the fetal heartbeat,” the statement noted. “At one point, there was a brief 5 second pickup for a heart rate of 140 beats per minute, but it was faint and the signal was not very clear.”

To Terrace

Morrison and Luft alleged they weren’t treated at KGH and told to go to Terrace. They also accused the ambulance of refusing to take them to Terrace in a dispute over payment.

The statement of defence said the couple arrived at MMH at 8:05 p.m., where a nurse was unable to verify a fetal heart rate.

“A physician was notified and attended at about (8:15 p.m.). The physician conducted a bedside ultrasound and found no fetal cardiac activity,” the statement said.

“Further bedside ultrasounds were conducted by different physicians along with ultrasounds in the radiology room and all showed no fetal cardiac activity. A fetal demise was diagnosed by the physicians at MMH.”

Medication and pain control were offered, the claim added.

Sarah Morrison and Ronald Luft at Christmas 2020. Facebook photo

But it did not address Morrison’s allegation that doctors in Terrace ignored her pleas for an emergency cesarean delivery to save her baby’s life, or why they failed to use lifesaving treatment once the baby was born.

Morrison gave birth naturally to a stillborn daughter early on the morning of January 28.

The couple’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The claim said the health authority did not owe Luft “a duty of care” and denied it failed in its duty of care to Morrison.

“The health authority defendants say that at all material times, they and their employees, officers or agents acted fully in accordance with the standard accepted practice,” the claim said.

Racial stereotyping 

It further denied allegations the staff made “erroneous and racial stereotyping” comments in Morrison’s medical chart.

Her statement of claim said the comments alleged Morrison was in an abusive relationship, her parents have diabetes, her grandparents had diabetes, she had a urinary tract infection (UTI) and annual UTIs, her parents were alcoholics and recovering from drugs, and she was depressed.

None of those allegations are true, her claim added.

The statement of defence said its defendants charting was “appropriate and in accordance with the standard of care in treating maternity patients.

“Further, the health authority defendants say that nothing they or their employees, officers or agents did or failed to do caused or contributed to the fetal demise and any injuries, loss, damage or expense suffered by the plaintiffs, as alleged, or at all.”

The claim seeks a dismissal of the legal action with costs.

It noted the five doctors – one in Kitimat and four in Terrace – who saw Morrison that night are “independent contractors” and not employees of the health authority.

 

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.