Jurors make 20 recommendations on last day of public inquiry into Samwel Uko’s death

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Jurors make 20 recommendations on last day of public inquiry into Samwel Uko’s death
The week-long public inquest into the tragic 2020 death of Samwel Uko came to an end Friday afternoon. Jury members were charged with making recommendations to the Saskatchewan Health Authority on how to improve the heatlh-care system, after gaps left Uko without the urgent care he required. Taz Dhaliwal reports. – Jun 5, 2022

The week-long public inquiry into the tragic death of 20-year-old Samwel Uko came to an end Friday afternoon, as jury members presented 20 recommendations to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

The recommendations are to help SHA ensure a similar death never happens again.

It’s been a deeply emotional inquiry process for the family as they’ve listened to a handful of witnesses that were there the day Uko died by suicide in Wascana Lake on May, 21, 2020.

Uko drowned after visiting the Regina General Hospital (RGH) twice that day, in order to access immediate mental health supports.

The five-day inquest involved testimonies from numerous hospital staff, first responders, and those who knew Uko personally. The nurse, doctor, registration staff, SHA official, and a security guard who saw Uko hours before his drowning were among those who testified.

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The list of recommendations includes incorporating regular staff huddles and meetings on patient-dignity, updated training on mental health care to all staff, including non-medical staff, cultural diversity training, including but not limited to institutional racism, interpersonal racism, internalized racism, unconscious bias micro-aggressions, along with having all staff trained on de-escalation tactics.

During a press conference Friday morning, before the last day of the inquest began, family members conveyed feelings of being re-traumatized through the inquest process as they said it was hard to sit through some of the testimonies and watch footage of Uko being “kicked-out” of the hospital.

“We are upset, angry, we are frustrated,” stated Justin Nyee, Uko’s uncle.

“There is no feeling, these people coming in and you can have a feeling that there is no remorse from them,” he said.

Uko was living in Regina for school as he attended Regina University and was training to make the football team. An avid football player, he had dreams of making it to the NFL. The athlete was originally from Abbotsford, B.C., and moved to Saskatchewan in 2018.

During the testimonies it was revealed that Uko began to feel isolated through the pandemic when the football season was put on hold, in-person classes were suspended, and he was far away from the strong support system he had in B.C.

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His family and high school teachers described him as a respectful, laid-back, productive individual who “always had the biggest smile.”

Just hours before Uko’s sudden drowning in Wascana Lake, his cousin took him to the hospital, but couldn’t come in with him due to COVID protocols.

There, Uko was diagnosed with depression, referred to mental health services, and given a prescription for sleeping pills. Uko was able to see a nurse and doctor on his first visit, however they did not asses him as having an acute depressive episode, which needed urgent care.

After leaving the hospital, Uko was still experiencing a mental health crisis and so he called Regina police and was dropped off at RGH for a second time.

During that visit, he was stuck between the registration and triage stages. A group of security guards then took it upon themselves to forcibly remove Uko from the hospital when a staff member said “he needed to be taken anywhere but here,” referring to a chair he was sitting in within the registration area.

“Samwel was a human who walked into the hospital, and the people at the hospital did not see him as a human. That was the reason. If they saw him as one of them they would have helped him, but they did not,” Nyee said.

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At the hospital, there was some confusion around Uko’s identity among registration staff on his second visit, in terms of getting his first and last name right.

However, on the first day of the inquest, an executive from SHA named John Ash stated that it is the authority’s policy that all patients, whether identified or unidentified, can still be registered and looked at by a doctor in order to receive the care they came to the hospital for.

It’s a policy that hospital staff failed to meet on his second visit, and since the incident, Ash claims the policy has been reaffirmed with staff.

The family and many community advocates said they believe Uko’s identity as a Black man is what lead to that failure.

“What we are calling for is transparency, an admission for the role that racism and discrimination has played in this,” said Vibya Natana, Black in Sask spokesperson, who was also at the press conference Friday morning.

“What we are also asking for is a commitment moving forward to be able to … in a way that we all as a community will be able to … and not just the Black community, but every community member will be able to see in a progressive way,” Natana added.

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Nyee said Uko’s story highlights the distrust between Black individuals, people of colour and hospital staff within the community.

The family is calling for change when it comes to actively dealing with systemic racism within the health-care system, not only in Saskatchewan, but across the country, in order to ensure another family never has to deal with the trauma of losing a loved one, during their outcry for help while experiencing a mental health crisis.

Nyee said they were relieved to see the recommendations made by the jurors, adding the family agrees with every single point made and that it reaffirmed the faith they had in the jurors from the beginning.

“They saw what we saw. You don’t need to be blind to see the racism component of what happened to Samwel,” Nyee said.

“I will do my part to remember him as an uncle, he didn’t deserve to die … we can’t have him back,” Uko’s uncle said as he choked back tears.

The family was given $81, 000 of compensation money for Uko’s death by the SHA last summer. But they said they will be returning the money because they now do not see it as being done in good faith on the part of the SHA.

Instead, the family said it would like to see “real action” from the authority when it comes to meaningfully implementing the recommendations made and standing by them.

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On Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., a memorial in honour of Uko will be held by Waskcana Lake, starting by the grounds of the legislative building. Family members and community advocates will be present and they invite the public to come pay their respects to Uko.

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