Woman who died in Whitehorse shelter had chest pains day prior says witness at inquest

Whitehorse Emergency Shelter

The Whitehorse Emergency Shelter in downtown Whitehorse. :Photo Vincent Bonnay/APTN

A woman who died in an emergency shelter in Whitehorse suffered from chest pains and was somewhat incapacitated an inquest into her death has heard.

Josephine Hager, 38, who was a citizen of the Selkirk First Nation, died at the shelter during the early morning hours of Feb. 1, 2023.

Hager is one four First Nations women who died while accessing the shelter and whose deaths are now at the centre of a coroner’s inquest currently taking place in Whitehorse.

Hager, who lived in an apartment at the shelter, was described as a kind, energetic person who had many friends and was closely connected to her culture.

The day before her death, a friend and fellow shelter user testified she had reported experiencing chest pains but refused to go to the hospital.

In the final hours leading up to her death, Hager could be seen on CCTV footage being escorted in a wheelchair. The footage later shows her laying motionless in a common area.

Staff members working the night Hager died testified she appeared to be intoxicated and that it wasn’t unusual for her to be seen sleeping in various parts of the building.

They said despite frequent checks and offers of assistance, Hager refused help, even attempting to punch a staff member at one point.

Despite her condition, one staff member testified Hager was breathing and her airway appeared to be unobstructed, and that she was also being monitored on CCTV.

The coroner overseeing the inquest has issued a publication ban on shelter workers who are testifying.

Read More: 

Inquest into 4 Whitehorse shelter deaths begins 

One shelter client said after checking on Hager they realized she wasn’t breathing and performed CPR.

Staff then took over, and Hager was rushed to the hospital. The doctor who treated her said she had no pulse and she was pronounced dead.

The client who found Hager said they felt staff weren’t properly checking on her and that they left her unattended for too long.

They also testified they felt staff were racist towards Indigenous people accessing the shelter.

“(Staff are) rude toward Natives,” they said.

Staff members testified the shelter advocated for clients to have their own autonomy. They said some clients don’t want to be touched or don’t want to call an ambulance even if they’re experiencing medical issues.

One staff member said in some circumstances, clients were encouraged to call their own ambulance if they refused assistance from staff.

At the time of Hager’s death, non-profit Connective had just recently taken over management shelter from Yukon government.

The inquest will continue for the next two weeks. This week its expected to examine the death of  Darla Skooum, 51, who died at shelter in early 2023.

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