Winnipeg hospital’s attitude toward Elder ‘hurtful’ as family drafts response to apology

Elder says she felt as if hospital workers including doctor assumed she was drinking.

Elder Sadie North, with the help of her family, is working up a response to a Winnipeg hospital’s email apologizing to the family for how she was treated and in the end says an apology isn’t enough.

“People like my mom shouldn’t be made to feel like that she had to defend herself when she’s sick. She was already very ill and for someone to accuse her of drinking alcohol was very hurtful,” says Elder North’s daughter Sheila.

The Bunibonibee Cree Nation Elder was with her family on Sept. 6 when she became sick. Her daughter, former MKO grand chief Sheila North, took her to the Grace Hospital in Winnipeg.

While there – she and her family say they faced racism from staff, including a doctor.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, North had to leave her mother alone at the hospital at the check in desk. Once inside, the Elder’s condition worsened.

“I could feel that I, my head wanted to go backward, I was already sick I couldn’t, I even, I couldn’t form my words what to say,” she said.

She said the hospital staff were yelling at her and did not assist her in getting to the waiting room area.

Eventually a staff member pushed her into the hall where she threw up twice.

Elder North says the next thing she remembers is waking up in a bed, with the doctor asking her questions about alcohol use, which she said she has never used.

The doctor also knew she was diabetic when he spoke with her when she first awoke.

“I don’t use alcohol, I don’t use alcohol. And he said ‘are you sure? When you’re diabetic and alcohol doesn’t mix together’ and on and on and he didn’t even look at my infection on my leg. He didn’t even look at it or talk about it.”

Elder North also said she felt accused that the staff assumed she was drinking alcohol.

“Accused. That’s how I felt after I went home. I couldn’t feel it when I was there in the hospital but when I came to be better I could feel. Why would the sick people have to be accused of drinking?”

Cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, on her leg turned out to be the cause of her sickness.

She also had a fat lip upon leaving the hospital, although the family isn’t sure if that was from some of the strong medication she was on or something else.

A Grace Hospital statement provided on behalf of Chief Operating Officer Kelly O’Rourke said, “In collaboration with WRHA Indigenous health services, we have been actively engaged with Elder North and her family over the last number of weeks to listen and to understand their concerns. We are sincerely sorry for her experience, and we have extended that apology to her and her family directly.”

It doesn’t say whether any action has been taken against the doctor or nurses involved.

The statement also says that discrimination and racism have no place in their hospital.

Sheila North was told that there was also cross cultural training, but she doesn’t believe that’s enough.

The Grace Hospital in Winnipeg.

She says the doctor and nurse who “berated” her mother and treated her “with such disrespect should be fired. They shouldn’t have a job.”

The North family is also putting in a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba.

Sheila says her mother is not usually one to speak out but after speaking with the family, they wanted to share her story for others.

“She always in fact told me and my siblings don’t say anything when people say anything to you. Basically telling us, just you know turn the other cheek,” she said.

“And so this is her motto she doesn’t, she lets things slide because you know because she’s very forgiving but she felt the need to stick up for herself during her stay there.”

The news comes on the heals of the outrage following the death of Joyce Echaquan in a Joliette hospital in Quebec.

Moments before her death, the mother of seven from the Atikmekw Nation of Manawan, livestreamed racist taunts and insults being hurled at her from a nurse and hospital attendant.

Weeks later, an Atikmekw man, Georges-Hervé Awashish said he was on his way back from the bathroom at the Chicoutimi Hospital when he overheard staff discussing Echaquan – and laughing.

“I heard one of the nurses saying ‘we have one, we have an Indian asleep in his room, we should inject him with toxic chemicals. His problem will be fixed, he doesn’t walk anyways,’” the 53 year old alleged in an exclusive interview with La Converse in French and shared with APTN News.

He said he feared for his life at the hospital. He died at the hospital a week later on Oct. 11.

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