The parents of a stillborn baby were refused medical care by a northern B.C. emergency room doctor and an ambulance ride to another hospital because they are Indigenous, an exclusive copy of a statement of claim provided to APTN News alleges.
“The statement was filed Feb. 10 and served on the hospitals,” said lawyer Michael Patterson, who is representing Sarah Morrison and Ronald Luft of Haisla Nation.
The defendants – Northern Health, Mills Memorial Hospital (MMH) in Terrace, Kitimat General Hospital (KGH), a nurse and five doctors – have 21 days to file a statement of defence.
The claim, which seeks unspecified general, special and punitive damages, details a series of events outlined by the couple, who were expecting their first child – a girl.
The child was full-term but stillborn hours later via natural childbirth in Terrace, roughly 45 minutes away, after the mother said the doctor in the Kitimat hospital turned her away.
“On Jan. 27, 2021, the plaintiffs called KGH to alert them that they were coming in due to the contraction pain that Sarah was experiencing,” the claim said.
“The expectant father, Ronald, was videotaping and commenting on camera about the pregnancy journey.”
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Morrison’s labour was approximately two weeks overdue, the claim added, but she’d had an uneventful pregnancy.
“While Sarah was in pain, the plaintiffs, nevertheless, were filled with joyful expectancy that they were about to meet their new baby.”
An electronic fetal heart examination conducted by a nurse at KGH showed the baby had a baseline fetal heart rate of 140, according to medical records quoted in the claim.
“No decelerations were reported to the plaintiffs, which was a reassuring sign. The fetal movement was also reported by (the) nurse to be normal in the records provided by the defendants.”
The mother-to-be said she told the nurse she “was experiencing fluid leakage; however (the) nurse made no record of this information, conducted no examination, and took no steps to make sure there was no risk to the fetus due to amniotic fluid leakage.”
While her contractions were increasing, the claim said, the doctor attended.
“(He) advised the plaintiffs that there was nothing he could do for them and that he did not understand why they came to KGH, stating that they should have gone to the hospital in Terrace.”
The doctor didn’t examine Morrison or offer to assess or examine her, the claim added.
“Upon hearing (the doctor’s) assertions that there is nothing he can do for them, Sarah was further distressed and Ronald was even more distressed,” the claim said.
None of the allegations have been tested in court.
A spokesperson for Northern Health has told APTN that the Kitimat hospital has labour and delivery facilities but it’s up to the attending physician to determine how to use them.
“In their desperation, the plaintiffs left KGH and called an ambulance with the intention that the ambulance would take them to MMH in Terrace,” the claim said.
“The ambulance arrived and took the plaintiffs from one end of KGH to the other end of KGH. The ambulance attendant refused to take the plaintiffs to MMH. The attendant said the plaintiffs would have to pay for the ambulance and inquired whether the plaintiffs were even able to do that.”
The claim said the couple assured the attendant they would pay “as it did not matter to them what it would cost” but the attendant said the doctor “instructed that it was not necessary to transport the plaintiffs by ambulance.”
What happened with the ambulance and at both hospitals is now part of a “patient care review” initiated by the Northern Health Authority and BC Emergency Health Services.
Morrison’s father arrived at KGH in time to witness the short ambulance ride, the claim said. He drove the couple to Terrace while his daughter’s contractions “continued to increase in length and frequency. On arrival at MMH at or around 8 p.m., (he) was not allowed in MMH due to COVID restrictions.”
The dad-to-be (Luft) helped Morrison into the hospital, where the claim said she waited 15 minutes before a nurse started a heart rate monitor and gave her a blanket.
“No questions were asked of Sarah to determine her medical history, as well as the fetus’, despite MMH being aware that Sarah had a limited prenatal health history,” the claim alleged.
“No internal examination was done on Sarah. Sarah was not hooked up to an IV or any monitoring devices.” However, the claim said she did undergo an ultrasound.
The claim said three doctors and two nurses “all declared that they were unable to find a fetal heartbeat.”
The claim said, “Sarah was in extreme distress and begged (a doctor) to perform a Cesarean (section) in order to save her baby. Sarah was advised by (the doctor) that he did not see the point and it was not in her best interest for future pregnancies.
“Sarah advised (the doctor) that she was not interested in future pregnancies, but interested in saving the life of her baby.”
She and Luft “in desperation” attempted to leave MMH to find help elsewhere, the claim said.
Then Morrison’s mother arrived and began advocating for her daughter, the claim added, demanding medication, monitoring, examinations and a Cesarean birth.
“All of (her) requests fell on deaf ears. (The doctor) decided that it was not in Sarah’s future interests to have a Cesarean.”
Morrison was offered Fentanyl, then provided with morphine and nitrous oxide, which the claim alleged “was not monitored and none of Sarah’s vitals were ever monitored.”
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The doctor “advised that the Oxytocin drip was being used by someone else and that they had to provide priority care, an indication that Sara’s child was not a priority,” the claim said.
At about 1 a.m., the doctor “broke the remainder of Sarah’s water. At 1:55 a.m. Sarah gave birth to a baby girl weighing seven pounds, eight ounces.”
The baby was washed, the claim said, and wrapped in a blanket and given to Sarah.
“No attempts to resuscitate the baby were made. No examination of the baby’s pupils was made. No examination of the umbilical cord was made. No penicillin was provided to Sarah. The baby was not intubated and no resuscitation efforts were attempted,” the claim alleged.
“…No meaningful attempts were made to save the baby who was in distress, apart from the usual ultrasound and electronic monitoring of the fetal heartbeat.”
The claim noted Morrison’s medical chart included “erroneous and racial stereotyping” comments that “informed or influenced” the way the plaintiffs were treated by the defendants.
These stated that 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 are alcoholics and recovering from drugs,
– that she was depressed.
APTN has not yet reviewed the medical records obtained by the family.
Patterson said in the claim his clients are in pain, have not been offered counselling, and continue to suffer emotionally and psychologically, with feelings of “anxiety, loss of the will to live, shame, embarrassment, grief.”
The claim alleged the injuries were caused by the doctors’ negligence.
It said they “breached” their duty of care and “the standards expected of a doctor in the province of British Columbia” by failing to “properly” test, treat and “prevent the demise of the fetus.”
In combination with “treating the plaintiffs with deliberate and racial indifference”, the claim said “the plaintiffs have suffered the loss of their first child together, emotional distress, humiliation, shame, and embarrassment.”
The defendants “committed the acts…with the wrongful intention of injuring the plaintiffs from an improper motive amounting to negligence and conscious disregard of the rights of the plaintiffs,” the claim alleged.