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MP wants review of Oak Lake woman's death after illness overseas

Brandon Sun Barb Johnston with her dog Sammy. Johnston died at Brandon hospital on Dec. 29 after getting sick in Cuba a little over a month earlier. Her family said the hospital conditions in Cuba were substandard.


Brandon Sun Barb Johnston with her dog Sammy. Johnston died at Brandon hospital on Dec. 29 after getting sick in Cuba a little over a month earlier. Her family said the hospital conditions in Cuba were substandard.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/1/2016 (1470 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire intends to follow up with Global Affairs Canada following the death of an Oak Lake woman who became ill while visiting Cuba in November.

Barbara Johnston, 54, died Dec. 29 at the Brandon Regional Health Centre after getting sick in Cuba more than a month earlier.

Johnston was initially taken from her resort, the Meliá Cayo Santa Maria, to a clinic on the Cayo Santa Maria island before being transported to a mainland Cuban hospital, where she was treated for septic shock for more than a week.

Her family said the conditions at the Arnaldo Milian Castro Hospital in Santa Clara were substandard, including no running water, no antiseptic and no blankets.

When the family reached out to the Canadian consulate in Cuba for help, they were largely ignored, according to Barbara’s son Derek Johnston.

"(The consulate said) they don’t have time to run around and help every sick person in Cuba," said Derek, who flew to Cuba with his brother Riley after learning of his mother’s illness.

"Meanwhile, she’s in the ICU on the edge of death."

A request for a translator resulted in a list of local service providers. The majority of the numbers were out of service, according to Derek.

A collapse in Cuba

On Monday, Maguire called the consulate’s reply "unacceptable."

"I think there needs to be recognition that these consulates need to be more responsive," Maguire said. "Through my office, we will be working with the family to find out where the breakdown was and how things can be improved."

Maguire said his office was involved on the file near its beginning. He said there was good communication between advocates and government officials in Canada, but there appeared to be a collapse in Cuba.

"The results were not what we expected in a developed country like this," Maguire said. "There is a relationship between Canada and Cuba and there are going to continue to be thousands of people heading south every month to holiday there, so it’s one of those things that I think there needs to be a greater awareness."

Global Affairs Canada has 12 indeterminate Canadian-based staff in Havana, the capital city of Cuba, according to Amy Mills, a spokeswoman for the department. Another 44 locally engaged staff make up a total of 56 employees working on the Caribbean island.

Canada has an embassy in Havana and a consulate in Varadero and Holguin.

"Global Affairs Canada is aware of a Canadian citizen who was hospitalized in Cuba," Mills said in an email. "Canadian consular officials provided consular assistance and were in contact with the local authorities. To protect the privacy of the individual concerned, further details on this case cannot be released."

Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire.


Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire.

A Brandon Sun request to speak directly to someone in the department was not granted.

Mills said the department encourages Canadians to consult the Travel Advice and Advisories (TTA) for Cuba for updated information.

Insurance company dragged feet

The TTA for Cuba states you shouldn’t "expect medical services to be the same as in Canada."

It goes on to say that: "Generally, Cuba’s medical services are acceptable, although basic medicine and equipment are not always available. Emergency and ambulance services are very limited and response times are slow, especially in rural areas."

The Johnstons are also upset with their insurance company, which they believe dragged its feet on two fronts — getting funds to Cuban hospital officials and getting Barbara out of the country.

She was insured through her CIBC Aventura credit card.

An official with CIBC wasn’t available for comment yesterday.

While the insurance is offered through the CIBC, where Barbara worked for 35 years, it is handled by a third party, Global Excel Management.

Marie-Eve Ellement, with Global Excel, confirmed that the company is "the authorized claims administrator" for Barbara’s medical insurance policy. However, they directed inquiries to Royal and Sun Alliance (RSA) Canada.

Although Global Excel is an independent entity, it "maintains a key client relationship with RSA," according to its website.

Amalia Kyriacou, corporate communications manager for RSA, said privacy concerns prevented the company from providing "details in regards to any individual client claims or complaints."

General questions posed to RSA were also not answered.

The cause of Barbara’s death, according to her family, wasn’t determined, despite being life-flighted out of Cuba to the Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Dec. 3.

On Christmas morning, doctors told her family that she only had 48 hours to live.

Three days later she was life-flighted to Brandon where she died early Dec. 29, surrounded by family.

Prior to leaving Cuba, Derek said he spent every peso in his wallet, "because no one from our family is ever going to return to that country."


Twitter: @CharlesTweed


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Updated on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 at 8:17 AM CST: Headline fixed.

9:24 AM: Headline changed.

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