Relatives of two people sent home from hospital by taxi, both of whom later died, say they're skeptical whether the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority can properly investigate the most recent deaths.
Dana Brenan, whose mother, Heather Brenan, died in January 2012 after leaving Seven Oaks General Hospital, and Miles Pollock, whose uncle, David Silver, died Dec. 31 after leaving Grace Hospital, said the WRHA's review into Silver's death and the Dec. 29 death of Wayne Miller (who also left Grace Hospital) needs to focus on the quality of hospital care -- not the role of taxi drivers.
Brenan's death is already the subject of an upcoming provincial inquest.
"I never think it's a good idea for organizations to be assessing their own performance in quite the way the WRHA is investigating themselves now," said Pollock. "Then it becomes a bureaucratic or political process versus a process that takes into account a common-sense approach for care and concern for these at-risk people.
"Obviously, there's a pattern here and clearly this has happened to other people. Whether it resulted in death or not, that's not really the point. The point is whether patients are being handled in a respectful and safe manner."
Health Minister Erin Selby said Monday the WRHA is conducting what's called critical-incident reviews of Silver's and Miller's deaths, including examining whether the patient-discharge policy brought in after Brenan's death was followed and whether Silver and Miller were medically well enough to be sent home by taxi in frigid temperatures. The province, WRHA and Manitoba Taxicab Board are looking at mandating that cab drivers wait after dropping off a discharged patient to make sure they make it safely inside their residence.
The discharge guideline says in all cases, patients who require assistance with transportation or to get into their homes and remain there safely must have a named and available support person contacted, confirmed and documented by hospital staff before being discharged.
"If they had followed it they would have found out that nobody was home," Pollock said of his uncle's case. "I'm very skeptical about whether we'll ever really know that a better way has been implemented, but I have hope."
Brenan said the safe-discharge policy is meaningless if it is not being followed.
"It seems that it never crosses the mind of the WRHA that they should actually check up that the hospitals are following these policies," she said.
Brenan said the critical-incident review, as in her mother's case, will not be released to the families because they are for internal use only and because the province's Personal Health Information Act restricts the release of patient information.
"I've never read the actual critical-incident report," Brenan said. "They said it's confidential."
The inquest into Brenan's death is in court Jan. 27 to deal with who should be granted standing. Dana Brenan is a also suing the WRHA and Seven Oaks.
"The inquest is not just about my mother's death and what happened to her," she said. "It's about hospital policy and about sending elderly patients home alone late at night. It will ask those questions, so I think if the hospital is saying my mother's case just a one-off, a horrible incident and that we have a new policy, well, sorry, the hospitals aren't following it."
A spokesman for the province's chief medical examiner, Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra, said a decision to hold inquests in the Miller and Silver deaths won't be made immediately.
Progressive Conservative health critic Myrna Driedger said to bring more accountability to the health-care system, the government must mandate provincial inquests be held quickly.
"If you're going to be fixing problems in the system, why would you wait years and years to do an inquest when you've got those problems happening right now?" Driedger said.
"There needs to be more of a sense of urgency.
"You don't need a task force. You just need leadership by the government."