Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

HSC staff blew off alerts about Sinclair

Former nurse's aide tried several times, she tells inquest

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Glen Abraham and wife Debbie MacPhail-Abraham leave the Law Courts Building after testifying Thursday at the Sinclair inquest.

Glen Abraham and wife Debbie MacPhaill- Abraham leave the Lawcourts building where they were testifying during the Brian Sinclair Inquiry. They are the couple who first noticed and told security about a man they didn�t think was breathing in the waiting room. 131024 - October 24, 2013 MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Glen Abraham and wife Debbie MacPhail-Abraham leave the Law Courts Building after testifying Thursday at the Sinclair inquest. Glen Abraham and wife Debbie MacPhaill- Abraham leave the Lawcourts building where they were testifying during the Brian Sinclair Inquiry. They are the couple who first noticed and told security about a man they didn�t think was breathing in the waiting room. 131024 - October 24, 2013 MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Photo Store

A Winnipeg couple tried to alert staff in the Health Sciences Centre's emergency department several times about Brian Sinclair's plight but were ignored at best.

Debbie MacPhail-Abraham and her husband, Glen Abraham, testified that between the two of them, they told staff five times somebody should check Sinclair's condition, and he was in the waiting room for a second straight night.

The inquest has been told Sinclair was already dead, but the couple said their repeated alerts for more than an hour were met with indifference, laughter and a comment of "he's here to watch TV" from the nurses and a security guard to whom they talked.

MacPhail-Abraham, a nurse's aide for 35 years, said it wasn't until shortly after midnight on Sept. 21, 2008, and the sixth time she spoke with a staff member, a security guard, she finally got some action -- and only after she tugged his jacket and said, "Get off your ass and check this fellow."

"He kind of hesitated, but I guess he thought, 'This crazy lady won't give up.' "

She said she and the security guard walked over to Sinclair and the guard lifted the man's head by the chin.

That's when the guard whisked Sinclair back into the treatment area of the emergency department, where the inquest has been told a resuscitation team briefly worked on him before they realized not only was he dead, but had been deceased so long rigor mortis was setting in.

"He was very blue," MacPhail-Abraham said, describing Sinclair's face. "Navy blue."

Sinclair, a double amputee who used a wheelchair, arrived in the emergency department 34 hours before his death was discovered, but was never triaged or treated. The inquest has heard Sinclair might have been dead as long as seven hours before he was seen for treatment.

He died of a treatable bladder infection caused by a blocked urinary catheter. A doctor at a medical clinic had sent him to the ER by taxi to have the infection treated.

MacPhail-Abraham and her husband had been to the emergency room the night before, on Sept. 19, because of an ill family member. She said she first mentioned her concern about Sinclair when she walked in and saw him on Sept. 20 at about 9 p.m., still sitting in his wheelchair where she had seen him almost 24 hours before.

She said as she passed by the security desk she said, "Holy cow, they must be busy. That man is still over there from our first night."

She said she next told a nurse in training about her concerns for Sinclair, but the response she received was laughter and "a bit dismissive.

"Everybody was dismissive. I didn't get a lot of open doors."

MacPhail-Abraham said after she told her husband to tell a nurse about Sinclair, he said he was told they would get to him. Half an hour later, she hadn't seen anyone go up to the man.

When she and her husband went outside for a smoke -- where she could intently watch Sinclair to see if he moved at all, which he didn't -- and she told a guard about her concern, the man said Sinclair was probably there "to watch TV."

Under questioning by the lawyer representing the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the hospital, McaPhail-Abraham admitted she wasn't positive if she used the "ass" comment to a guard, or to her husband before talking to the guard.

"I guess at this point, five years later, anything is possible," she said after she was asked if she had instead said, "Would you please come with me and check that man?"

MacPhail-Abraham said although she might be a bit unsure on times, she is sure about whom she spoke to.

Her husband admitted he was concerned about Sinclair because it looked like he was "frozen in time."

He said the nurse he spoke to "didn't seem concerned at the moment. I was more concerned at that point."

Later, Shawn Lanceley, who went to emergency after feeling the effects of breathing pesticide fumes in his apartment building, said while he was talking with a friend in the waiting room, he overheard a concerned person buttonhole a nurse about Sinclair just two or three metres away from where he was sitting in his wheelchair.

"She told a nurse that 'I think this guy needs help,' " Lanceley said.

"(The nurse) told her, 'We are aware he's here. He is just waiting to be seen.' "

But later, when Lanceley was shown a few hours of video of him in the waiting room, including the time when he was speaking with his friend, he agreed he didn't see the conversation take place.

Lanceley said he noticed Sinclair because of an odour when he walked by him on Sept. 20, sometime after he arrived in emergency about 4:42 p.m.

"I realized there was a pee smell -- it was pretty awful."

The inquest continues next week.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2013 A6

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