The executive director of the Main Street Project and Winnipeg paramedics are enthusiastically endorsing recommendations by a Manitoba judge to bolster medical practices and add more spaces to the facility's drunk tank.
The 20-bed holding area for intoxicated clients at the MSP, called the intoxicated person detention area (IPDA), was the scene of the 2009 death of Douglas Leon Sanderson, who was taken to the shelter after suffering hits to his head at a downtown bar. Sanderson refused to be taken to hospital.
While at the shelter, it was suspected Sanderson fell and struck his head at least two more times. He was taken to hospital, but died after unsuccessful attempts to relieve swelling of his brain.
'As a nurse, I personally value the clinical expertise (paramedics) bring and that expertise saves lives' -- Main Street Project executive director Lisa Goss
Manitoba judge Dale Schille issued an inquest report Thursday recommending individuals should only be discharged from the shelter after being examined by a paramedic. Schille's recommendations also included expanding the facility due to demand.
Project executive director Lisa Goss welcomed the judge's report.
"I support that 100 per cent," Goss said. "They're invaluable to us. I'd have four paramedics every day if I could. The support the paramedics give to those who provide service is priceless. As a nurse, I personally value the clinical expertise they bring and that expertise saves lives."
Goss noted that since 2009, the MSP has increased video surveillance at the area for intoxicated people, which operates at 96 per cent capacity and is checked every 10 minutes. Clients are woken up every hour. "It's the safest place to be when you're intoxicated," she said.
Schille's report said it was clear Sanderson suffered brain trauma at one point during the evening.
"The bleeding had not progressed to the point that vital signs were impacted by symptoms," Schille wrote. "It appears that only complex diagnostic equipment such as a CT scanner could have confirmed the presence of subdural brain bleeding."
Staff tried to dismiss Sanderson several hours after he was admitted, but he fell and was taken back to a room. Later, he fell from a sitting position, hit his head again and was taken to hospital.
The judge said staff may have felt pressure to release Sanderson to make room for others at the busy facility.
"Currently, it is not uncommon during peak periods to have police vehicles lined up down the street with intoxicated persons awaiting admission. The current... facility consisting of 20 beds does not have adequate capacity to meet demand during peak periods."
The judge said the Main Street Project should talk to municipal officials and police about expanding the centre.
Chris Broughton, president of Paramedics of Winnipeg (MGEU Local 911), said the death of Sanderson occurred prior to a paramedic being placed full time at the area for intoxicated people. However, due to volume, one paramedic cannot physically inspect clients who are being checked in and checked out. (Right now, the paramedic concentrates on individuals getting dropped off at the facility).
Broughton said while shelter staff may be caring and dedicated, they do not have the required medical training. For example, they need to know the difference between sleeping and unconsciousness. "They lacked the tools to effectively manage a situation like this," he said.
Broughton noted any steps to prevent similar deaths must be considered.
"I think these are positive improvements," he said. "It's just making the system a little bit more robust."
-- with files from The Canadian Press