Another ER death under investigation in New Brunswick, called a ‘tragic event’

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Another ER death under investigation in New Brunswick
WATCH: The death of a patient in the emergency room at Edmundston Regional Hospital is sending shockwaves through the health care system. The Vitalite Health Network says the death was due to "unforeseen and exceptional circumstances." The death comes after a major shakeup in health care roles following an ER waiting room death in Fredericton. Nathalie Sturgeon has that story – Jul 25, 2022

Vitalité Health Network says a patient died in the emergency room of the Edmundston Regional Hospital on July 24, following a “tragic event.”

President and CEO Dr. France Desrosiers said in the release, “The person, who had been admitted to the Emergency Department, lost their life under unforeseeable and exceptional circumstances.”

The health authority provided little detail about what transpired on Sunday, but said no health-care workers or staff were injured.

“The Network also wishes to acknowledge the exemplary work and professionalism of its staff in handling this unfortunate incident,” Desrosier said in her statement.

The health authority said due to the “delicate nature of the incident, no further details will be provide to the public at this time.”

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“Rest assured that a comprehensive internal root cause assessment of the incident is underway,” she said. “The Network also collaborates with police authorities and the coroner in their respective investigations.”

This news comes just two weeks after a patient died in the waiting room of the ER at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton.

Click to play video: 'Premier Blaine Higgs replaces N.B. health minister after patient dies in ER'
Premier Blaine Higgs replaces N.B. health minister after patient dies in ER

On July 15, Premier Blaine Higgs, a response to that death, fired Horizon Health Network CEO Dr. John Dornan and he wiped both boards for the health authorities, saying change “starts at the top.”

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Higgs also shuffled his cabinet, swapping the health and social development ministers.

Officials respond to death

Early Monday afternoon, Health Minister Bruce Fitch and Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard made their first appearance together since effectively swapping portfolios in the aftermath of the death at the Chalmers.

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They did not provide any specific details on the incident in Edmundston, citing confidentiality, though media reports have indicated the death was by suicide.

“I’m aware of the situation and it was a tragic event,” said Fitch.

“There is an investigation that is ongoing. Unfortunately, I cannot release any details at this time because of the investigation. I do know, again, it was a traumatic situation for the staff and for the individual’s family.”

Fitch said he wants to stabilize the health-care system. He said he’s met with the two trustees that were appointed in place of the two regional health authority’s board and there are “a number of initiatives that are happening right now that are addressing some of the issues the emergency departments, specifically at the Chalmers.”

He said there will be an announcement on that in the “next little while.”

Shephard said “sometimes cabinet shuffles happen,” when speaking about her removal from the health portfolio in the wake of the previous death.

“This is a move the premier felt he had to make to refresh,” she said speaking to reporters Monday.

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She did respond to the death in Fredericton, while she was the minister, saying all the incidents are tragic and there are investigations underway.

The Edmundston Police Force confirmed it is investigating the circumstance of Sunday’s hospital death.

In a press release, the police force said it got a call in the early morning of July 24 “to offer assistance following an event where a person unfortunately died in unexpected circumstances.”

“An investigation is currently underway to better understand and assess the facts surrounding this unfortunate incident,” according to the press release.

Vitalité declined to comment on questions related to the staffing levels on the night of the incident.

​The province’s health system has been facing continued strain and staffing shortages. Many rural emergency rooms, under the English health authority Horizon Health Network, have been forced to reduce hours or close.

There has been no indication that the Edmundston Regional Hospital was facing any staffing issues the night the death occurred.

Desrosier did not address reporters on Monday, but issued a video statement she reiterated all the details published in an earlier media release. She spoke entirely in French.

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​The Edmundston Regional Hospital has been facing staffing issues in its pediatric and obstetrics units due to a lack of pediatricians.

Service was interrupted starting on Monday until next Friday, according to the health authority.

“We are in the middle of the summer and barely out of the pandemic, so the temporary lack of staff is forcing us to revise how we are going to deliver care to the public,” said Desrosier in the statement publish on the health authority’s website.

“The interruption of services is not acceptable, and we are working proactively to boost the resilience of our services to avoid such situations! Pregnant women affected will be contacted individually to establish a safe delivery plan for each of them.”

— With files from Robert Lothian. 

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