Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Suspicion of Sinclair's death in ER disbelieved

Nursing staff initially 'thought I was joking'

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Nursing staff at the Health Sciences Centre emergency room thought a security guard was joking when he told them he believed Brian Sinclair was dead in his wheelchair only several feet away.

Hospital security co-ordinator of operations Gary Francis testified Wednesday at the inquest into Sinclair's 2008 death he had to insist nurses help him with Sinclair, who was slumped in his wheelchair and showing signs of rigor mortis.

"I need help. I think this fellow is dead," Francis testified he told staff. "They looked at me and thought I was joking."

After a male nurse took Sinclair's pulse a few moments later, they whisked Sinclair into a resuscitation room where Francis helped lift him onto a bed. "His entire body was stiff as a board," Francis said.

There was a brief attempt to resuscitate Sinclair, but he was soon pronounced dead.

The inquest has heard Sinclair died between two to seven hours before Francis encountered him. It was the only medical care the 45-year-old double amputee received after arriving by cab at the ER 34 hours earlier.

Testimony by Francis and other hospital security officers Wednesday also showed how the ER operated prior to Sinclair's death. Security guards appear to have had more interaction with patients than medical staff.

At a later date, the inquest will hear evidence the ER waiting room's layout and triage protocol has since changed.

Francis said he was alerted to Sinclair's condition by a woman, a nurse at another facility who was in the waiting room and was concerned Sinclair's catheter was disconnected and the back of his neck was a "pasty-white colour."

At first, Francis said he brushed off her concern, telling her that was the way Sinclair, a frequent ER visitor, slept when intoxicated. There has been no evidence Sinclair, a longtime solvent abuser, was intoxicated on this occasion.

The nurse was persistent, so Francis said he walked up to Sinclair and firmly tapped his shoulder to wake him.

There was no response.

Francis testified he pinched Sinclair's shoulder nerve. Again, no reaction. He then tried to tilt Sinclair's head back.

It was stiff, so Francis said he pushed harder. "His eyes were completely black and his face was pale."

Francis said he later tried to get Sinclair's chart from the nurse on duty because he needed it for his report. He was told no chart had been created.

"He was never triaged at all."

The inquest has already heard Sinclair was sent to the hospital in a cab by a local medical clinic with a note saying he had a blocked catheter and suspected bladder infection, a treatable condition.

Now-retired HSC security guard Edward Latour testified Wednesday he spoke to a triage nurse about Sinclair after he saw him in the same spot and position two nights in row.

Latour said the nurse told him Sinclair had been the treated the day before, was released and had returned to the ER feeling ill.

Latour said he was assured "all was well with the patient" and his "concerns were unwarranted." He said he accepted the explanation and continued his rounds.

Under cross-examination by Garth Smorang, the lawyer for the Manitoba Nurses' Union, Latour said it was possible the nurse in question was referring to some patients in general and not specifically to Sinclair.

A third security guard, Howard Nepinak, also testified he saw Sinclair during his shifts.

"When I saw him on Friday, he looked OK, but when I saw him on Saturday, he was leaned over and appeared to be very weak and sort of in pain," Nepinak said.

Nepinak said he wondered why Sinclair was still in the same spot in the waiting room, but he assumed he had been seen, gone home and returned again.

Nepinak said he told his supervisor about Sinclair but did not bring it to the attention of medical staff.

Francis said Sinclair was a frequent patient and sometimes appeared intoxicated.

"He would be yelling at the nurse because he wanted a blanket or a sandwich or some juice," Francis said.

He added Sinclair once took a swing at a nurse who tried to move his backpack under his wheelchair.

The first phase of the inquest before provincial court Judge Tim Preston is to end this week. It will resume in October with testimony from members of the public who had contact with Sinclair in the HSC waiting room.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2013 A6


Updated on Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 9:45 AM CDT: Adds CIL box.

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