Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cabbies slam brakes on plan, deny responsibility for safety of patients

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Gurpreet Brar (right) and Sukhjinder Dhaliwal aren't happy about the proposed changes to their roles as cab drivers.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Gurpreet Brar (right) and Sukhjinder Dhaliwal aren't happy about the proposed changes to their roles as cab drivers. Photo Store

Cab drivers shut the door Sunday on taking care of sick patients hospitals sent home by taxi.

One after another, Unicity cab drivers waiting for fares at Richardson International Airport Sunday said they're not comfortable with the new rules the province intends to write into their job descriptions.

The province plans to make cab drivers responsible for seeing patients across their thresholds following the deaths of three patients -- two of which occurred in late December -- outside their homes.

"If they're saying we're responsible, that's not fair. We're not responsible for that," Gurpreet Brar said.

Cab drivers don't mind helping passengers but getting them safely inside their homes is way beyond their job descriptions, they said.

"We drop them at the door and (help) if we know they need help. Sometimes we wait until they open the door. Sometimes we ask them if they have keys and we say, 'I can wait for you,' " Brar said.

Sukhjinder Dhaliwal sat behind the steering wheel next to Brar, listening to his friend talk about the problems of making cab drivers responsible for sick patients sent home from hospital.

'If the people are too sick, keep them in hospital. It's not our fault. That's the doctors' responsibility'

-- cab driver Sukhjinder Dhaliwal

"We feel bad," he said about the deaths. But Dhaliwal said making cabbies shoulder more responsibility won't solve the problem.

"If the people are too sick, keep them in hospital," he said. "It's not our fault. That's the doctors' responsibility."

Health Minister Erin Selby said last week city taxi drivers will be given the mandatory responsibility of ensuring discharged hospital patients they transport make it home safely. Manitoba Health is drafting new rules spelling out cabbies' responsibilities.

The two elderly men who died last month were treated and released at the Grace Hospital within 24 hours of each other. Each was found dead outside in frigid late-December weather.

David Silver, 78, died Dec. 31 after being dropped off at home by a cab about 1:30 a.m.

He had just been discharged from the Grace ER, where he was diagnosed with kidney stones and gallstones, told to see his family doctor and sent home.

He had a heart attack moments after the cab pulled away. He wasn't found until much later that day when his housekeeper discovered him lying a short distance from his front door.

In the other recent death, a man in his late 50s or early 60s -- the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority would not confirm his name or age -- was discharged from the Grace about 8:25 a.m. Dec. 29. About 9 a.m., residents in the 100 block of Arlington Street discovered the man lying unresponsive on the sidewalk.

The CBC identified him as Wayne Miller and reported he suffered an aneurysm.

The third case, from January 2012, will be the subject of a provincial inquest. Heather Brenan, 68, was discharged from Seven Oaks General Hospital and sent home in a taxi. Using a walker, she got to her front door before she collapsed. She died the next day.

Cases like that have cab drivers wondering why the patients were sent home in the first place.

"Hospitals should make sure the patient is in good shape to go home. A cab driver won't know (that)," cabbie Sunil Taneja said.

Neither of the city's major cab companies has offered comment on the cases or on the province's response.

"I think it's clear that when a patient is discharged from hospital and returned by taxi, that should include that that patient makes it through the front door safely," Selby said last week.

"My office is working with the WRHA and the other RHAs across the province to ensure that this becomes mandatory.

"Clearly, there were gaps and we need to address that, and that is what we are doing today," Selby said.

"We're making sure that anybody who is sent home by taxicab, there will be an onus to make sure that that person gets through the front door safely. It's what families expect. It's what I would expect."

The WRHA will meet with Manitoba Taxicab Board representatives this week to discuss the incidents.

The board, which regulates the industry, has yet to offer a response on the issue.

Some cab drivers said Sunday that meeting could be an eye-opener for the health minister.

What Selby suggests comes uncomfortably close to what cab drivers can't do under current provincial regulations, several said.

"When you move a customer who needs attention, some kind of care, I do certain things, like carry groceries from Safeway or take care of the wheelchair. After that, we're not allowed to do anything," cab driver Awoke Chekole said.

"When we arrive at the door, we're not allowed (inside), according to the taxi board. We can only take them to their destination. We don't go inside and we have to be sure about that."

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 13, 2014 A3

History

Updated on Monday, January 13, 2014 at 8:13 AM CST: Corrects typo in lead paragraph.

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