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Family alleges inadequate care of woman who died at federal prison in Truro, N.S.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The family of a Nova Scotia woman who died in 2019 while incarcerated at the Nova Institution for Women has launched a negligence lawsuit, claiming correctional staff did not send her to hospital soon enough, despite her repeated attempts to get help.

Samantha Wallace-Parker, 28, was taken off life support on March 4, 2019 — two days after she was taken to hospital.

According to court documents, an ICU physician said she had died from severe pneumonia, respiratory failure and septic shock.

It was later concluded her death was due to an antibiotic-resistant strain of MRSA pneumonia, following an influenza type A infection.

Read more: Former N.S. guard faces 13 charges including sex assaults at women’s prison

A statement of claim was filed last February. The allegations are unproven in court and no statement of defence
has been filed.

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The family, which includes Wallace-Parker’s husband and four children, is seeking more than $1.5 million in damages.

At the time of her death, Wallace-Parker was serving a federal sentence of two years and two months for extortion, criminal harassment, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, and two breaches of probation.

She began her sentence on Jan. 8, when her youngest child was just two and a half months old.

The statement of claim alleges she was delayed in receiving her prescribed anti-depressant, faced delays in speaking with her family, and was attacked by another prisoner.

Read more: Woman taken to hospital after assault in N.S. prison

According to the claim, she first began complaining about difficulties breathing, a sore throat and a stuffy nose around Feb. 20.

The suit alleges Wallace-Parker made “numerous requests to be sent to hospital” in the days that followed, but no one at the prison referred her to a doctor or sent her to the Colchester East Hants Hospital.

In the early morning hours of March 2, she pressed her cell call button and reported to staff members she was having difficulty breathing and sleeping, but staff determined she was not displaying any obvious signs of distress or illness, so she wasn’t sent to the ER.

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According to the statement of claim, she saw her husband later that day during a visit, and was not well.

“Samantha was visibly ill. She lay her head down on the table and struggled to breathe. Paul told her to go to the hospital or words to that effect. Samantha cut the visit short and went to healthcare,” the statement of claim reads.

She was given a puffer by a nurse, but not sent to the hospital. When her husband returned that afternoon to visit her again, Wallace-Parker cut the visit short again and said she had trouble breathing.

Later that evening, a nurse concluded she should be sent to hospital, after noting she was pale and wheezing. She was taken hospital by ambulance at 7:43 p.m. and placed in a medically-induced coma hours later.

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At one point, the hospital considered sending her to Halifax via life flight, but she was “deemed too ill to transport.”

Read more: Halifax woman raises concern over prisoner access to health care in N.S.

On March 4, after consulting with hospital staff, her husband and mother made the decision to turn off life-saving equipment.

The suit alleges the federal institution had an obligation to provide Wallace-Parker with a “safe and healthful environment” and that the “defendant breached this duty.” It also alleges Correctional Service of Canada allowed for an environment that was “vulnerable to an MRSA outbreak” and that they failed to detect the outbreak during that time.

Second prisoner to die from pneumonia

The lawsuit notes Wallace-Parker is the second Nova prisoner who has died from pneumonia while in custody since 2015, after exhibiting flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath.

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In 2015, Veronica Park, a 38-year-old Indigenous woman from Corner Brook, N.L., who was also in custody at the Nova Institution, died after complaining about difficulty breathing. The same lawyer is representing both families.

“From its prior experience, CSC knew or ought to have known that the symptoms Samantha presented with could be symptoms of pneumonia requiring immediate treatment. Further, CSC knew or ought to have known that timely treatment by Emergency Services at Colchester East Hants Hospital was necessary to prevent permanent injury or death,” the claim reads.

Park’s family also filed a lawsuit after her death, alleging in the statement of claim her death was due to pneumonia. They said prison staff failed to notice her symptoms in a timely way and had provided a puffer as treatment.

In its statement of defence in that case, Correctional Service of Canada didn’t accept the plaintiff’s statement on the cause of death.

It has replied that Park showed no signs of distress when a check was done on her roughly two hours before she was rushed to hospital, and she was given competent and reasonable health care at the institution.

–With a file from The Canadian Press

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