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Pregnant Indigenous woman turned away from Kitimat hospital before stillbirth, family claims

Click to play video: 'Northern B.C. Indigenous family alleges systemic racism at Kitimat hospital' Northern B.C. Indigenous family alleges systemic racism at Kitimat hospital
A northern B.C. family is alleging systematic rascism, after a family tragedy. Rumina Daya reports – Jan 29, 2021

A Kitimat family is demanding answers, amid allegations the local hospital turned a pregnant First Nations woman away who later delivered a stillborn baby.

“She’s devastated. She’s broken. Living her worst nightmare,” Dustin Gaucher said of his niece Sarah Morrison.

Dustin Gaucher alleges his niece was turned away from the Kitimat General Hospital, and redirected to another hospital 60 kilometres away, where she delivered a stillborn baby. Submitted

Gaucher said his niece, who was about two weeks overdue, went to Kitimat General Hospital Wednesday night with steady contractions, but was instead re-directed Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace.

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Gaucher alleged that the hospital did not offer transport, leaving a family member to drive her the 60 km to the neighbouring community.

“I was told she was denied service for whatever reason,” he said, alleging that staff didn’t check how far she was into labour, and refused to break her water or do a caesarian section.

Click to play video: 'Family of northern B.C. mother who lost baby demands answers following tragedy' Family of northern B.C. mother who lost baby demands answers following tragedy
Family of northern B.C. mother who lost baby demands answers following tragedy – Jan 29, 2021

“If they couldn’t do it there, it should have been clearly communicated why not and (she should have been) transported accordingly, like a human being.”

Gaucher alleges when his niece phoned for an ambulance, it drove her around the block and back to the Kitimat hospital.

Read more: Investigator probing racism allegations in B.C. health-care system urges Indigenous people to come forward

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BC Emergency Health Services confirmed an ambulance was called to the hospital for a maternity patient, but said it did not transport anyone.

It was not immediately clear what went wrong with the birth, and Gaucher said doctors have yet to offer an explanation to his niece.

Click to play video: 'B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix responds to Kitimat family tragedy' B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix responds to Kitimat family tragedy
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix responds to Kitimat family tragedy – Jan 29, 2021

A spokesperson for Northern Health said they couldn’t discuss individual cases due to privacy.

However, they confirmed the maternity ward at Kitimat General Hospital is currently operating as normal, and has the capacity to perform deliveries, including Caesarian sections.

Mills Memorial Hospital does have neonatal and obstetric specialties, they said, and patients in some cases are referred there if they have high care needs or require specialist support.

Gaucher said the entire family is reeling, but plans to take the issue up with health officials.

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He said his niece had given him permission to go public with her experience to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Read more: The B.C. government apologizes for systemic racism towards Indigenous people in B.C.’s health-care system

Click to play video: 'Canadian ministers to meet with stakeholders to address systemic racism in health-care system against Indigenous peoples' Canadian ministers to meet with stakeholders to address systemic racism in health-care system against Indigenous peoples
Canadian ministers to meet with stakeholders to address systemic racism in health-care system against Indigenous peoples – Oct 15, 2020

“If we didn’t (put the story on social media), we wouldn’t have a response, and it would be just another First Nations baby swept under the rug. The systemic racism in Kitimat is ridiculous,” he said.

“You know how hard it is to tell your boy that he’s not an uncle? It’s heartbreaking to look at your sister, to listen to the story of what happened, to basically the equivalent of one of my children.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday that Northern Health had launched a review into the incident, that would include the family and the health-care facilities involved.

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Dix said that he too could not comment on specific cases for privacy reasons, but acknowledged that systemic anti-Indigenous racism exists in the health-care system.

“We expect those in our health-care system across our province to provide culturally safe care to indigenous people and all patients, no matter the situation,” Dix said.

“Allegations of racism are always taken seriously. There is no place for racism in our health-care system, and any discriminatory or racist behaviour is a violation of our principles, policies and values.”

In November, the B.C. government apologized for anti-Indigenous racism in the healthcare system, after a months-long investigation found wide-spread racism in the health care system including fear from Indigenous people to access hospitals due to racism.

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this story said that the mother went to hospital early Thursday morning. In fact, she went in Wednesday night. Global News regrets the error. 

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