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WRHA brass should testify: ethicist

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A prominent medical ethicist says high-ranking officials in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority should have to testify at the Brian Sinclair inquest on what they knew about his death and when they knew it.

Prof. Arthur Schafer, director of the University of Manitoba's Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said Thursday he's concerned that in the wake of Sinclair's death and for months afterward, high-ranking WRHA officials told the public Sinclair never approached the Health Sciences Centre triage desk when he arrived at the hospital, even though security video showed he had.

"The public is entitled to hear from Dr. (Brock) Wright and other top officials of the WRHA in their role of communicating to the public what went wrong," Schafer said.

"The inquest should hear that."

Wright, the WRHA's chief medical officer now and when Sinclair died, and other WRHA executives are not on the witness lists given to lawyers representing individuals and organizations at the inquest.

The 45-year-old Sinclair died Sept. 21, 2008, after a blocked catheter led to a urinary-tract infection. A double amputee after an earlier frostbite injury, he lived in a care facility with funding from the province. He had rolled his wheelchair into the HSC emergency room 34 hours earlier.

Schafer said he's also concerned the critical-incident review report on the matter, leaked to the CBC Thursday, said emergency room personnel referred to the area as "a war zone."

"Did the hospital and the WRHA not know at the time what the conditions were like? If they did, why didn't they do something about it?

"I also want to know what exactly does 'war zone' mean? There certainly is an attitude of 'us versus them,' and 'them' is the public. How has that changed? I find this disturbing."

WRHA spokeswoman Heidi Graham said although the critical-incident report can't be made public, the five recommendations the review committee made were released in 2008. The recommendations, meant to prevent another death such as Sinclair's, include electronically registering everyone entering the emergency room before they enter the waiting room and having ER staff speak directly with everyone in the waiting room at least once every four hours.

"The WRHA has already acted on all these recommendations," Graham said. "Critical-incident investigations, which are protected under provincial legislation, facilitate learning and improvement. They do not replace any other investigations, such as an administrative review, police investigation or an inquest. Any of the individuals interviewed by critical-incident investigators can also be interviewed through other investigations and can be called to testify in open court during the inquest."

Graham said it's up to inquest lawyers to determine who will testify.

Lawyer Vilko Zbogar, who is acting for Sinclair's family and has seen portions of the critical-incident report, said "the overall comment is the more information that comes out, the more upset they are. It is increasingly apparent that what happened to Brian Sinclair was foreseeable and should have been prevented."

Zbogar said Sinclair's family is upset that the report -- and the inquest itself -- shows Sinclair was approached by members of the public four times, but their pleas for help were ignored by ER staff as he spent 34 hours dying there.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 6, 2013 A3

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