UPDATE: Alberta health minister calls for review of private medical clinics
WATCH ABOVE: The province is calling for an investigation into private health clinics after Global News brought you the heartbreaking story of a mother who says her newborn was turned away from a clinic and later died. Kendra Slugoski reports.
(UPDATE: Friday evening, Alberta’s new health minister said she asked her department to review the standards and procedures in place for private clinics. Scroll down to read her full statement.)
EDMONTON — Jessica Knife will always wonder if $40 would have saved her baby boy.
She had just two weeks with Giovanni. Born healthy on Dec. 30, during a Christmas visit to Saskatchewan, the baby developed a cough not long after the family returned to Edmonton.
On Jan. 14, Knife bundled him up and walked with her boyfriend and their older son to an appointment at the nearby Downtown Medical Clinic. Giovanni didn’t yet have a health card, so she brought her own, as well as his tiny hospital birth bracelet.
Knife said the clinic staff told her that without a card, Giovanni couldn’t see the doctor unless she paid.
“They told me, ‘Well, the doctor would not see you without a payment of $40 up front.’ I had no money. I didn’t have bus fare.”
Knife took Giovanni home and tried to soothe him. She boiled water, hoping the steam would help loosen up the mucus in his lungs, and patted his back to help with the cough.
“I didn’t think it was an emergency enough to call the ambulance,” she says.
On the morning of Jan. 16, her boyfriend, Francis Maurice, woke and told Jessica it felt cold in their home. They checked on the baby.
“He was still warm, but he wasn’t breathing,” she recalls.
Maurice called 911, while Knife did CPR until the ambulance arrived.
“They cut his clothes off, then they tried to resuscitate him all the way to the hospital.”
Giovanni was put on a breathing tube, but he was gone.
“They pronounced him dead.”
The young mother often blames herself. “I tried to do my best and failed …
“I feel like I could have did something, but the clinic didn’t want to see him, I guess.”
“He was a sweet baby. … I wish I could still have him in my arms right now. I just miss him lots.”
In a statement Friday evening, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said:
“This was a tragic and unacceptable incident that might have been prevented. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time.
“My department is requesting that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta review this incident and respond accordingly. Further, I have also directed my department to review the standards and procedures that are in place for private clinics to determine whether they are appropriate and effectively enforced. We will follow through to ensure improved accountability and quality of care.”
The owner of the Downtown Medical Clinic, Dr. Khaled Ateer, is out of the country, but he sent Global Edmonton this statement:
“We have no information to suggest or confirm that any sick child in need of medical care was not seen by a Physician at the clinic on January 14, 2015, or that the clinic’s policy regarding uninsured patients was not followed at any time.”
“For uninsured child patients: Those requiring urgent medical attention are seen regardless, while the parents or guardians of those not in need of urgent attention are advised of a preliminary fee for service. If the parents or guardians of the child patients who are not in need of urgent medical attention cannot or will not pay the fee, those patients are directed to the Stollery Children’s Hospital or Emergency.”
The medical examiner is still reviewing the file and tells Global Edmonton an exact cause of death has not yet been concluded.
The province doesn’t have specific rules for how private, walk-in clinics are managed, but it can intervene and give direction in emergency situations.
The College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta oversees the standards of practice for all Alberta doctors. It says all physicians working in clinics are responsible for directing staff in ensuring appropriate interactions with patients.
Kelly Eby, a spokesperson for the college says doctors can turn patients away if they don’t have an Alberta health card, but only if it’s not an emergency.
“If it’s an emergency situation the physician has a moral and ethical responsibility to see the patient. Unfortunately sometimes the physician is not the one that makes that decision whether or not it’s an emergency situation.”
Eby says if there’s any doubt, a doctor should assess the patient to make the determination. The college says it will investigate if it gets a formal complaint from a patient.
WATCH: A young Edmonton mother says her newborn was turned away from a walk-in clinic because she didn’t have money to pay a $40 fee. The baby died two days later. Kendra Slugoski has her story.
For the sake of their other son, Knife and Maurice try not to let Giovanni’s death consume them. Knife keeps all of Giovanni’s pictures, documents and the clothes paramedics cut off of him in a sealed bag.
“Honestly, I cry every night still just thinking about him.”
Knife, 26, says her only solace is that her father met Giovanni before he died, less than two weeks after the baby.
“I hope it doesn’t happen to anybody else,” Knife says. “That’s why I’m doing this interview: at least justice for my baby, being turned away like nobody should be turned away, especially babies.”
*NOTE: This article was originally published on May 28 and was updated on May 29 with a statement from the health minister.
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