Brian Sinclair spent 34 hours surrounded by health-care workers who could have treated him but didn't.

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Brian Sinclair spent 34 hours surrounded by health-care workers who could have treated him but didn't.

Dr. Catherine Cook, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's vice-president of population and aboriginal health, said she believes it could be because wrong assumptions were made, coupled with stereotypes.

Dr. Catherine Cook


Dr. Catherine Cook

When told by provincial court Judge Tim Preston an earlier witness in the inquest said they didn't disturb Sinclair because he was in "the usual position when intoxicated," Cook responded "Assumptions were made based on past behaviour or situations.

"I think it was a very unfortunate statement. One situation differs from another. That's when you start wondering if (the) stereotype of aboriginal people comes to mind instead of the actual situation."

Cook said it is like when someone sees a person stumbling around due to diabetes but assumes that person is drunk.

"They don't approach the person to ask if they need help," she said. "These types of assumptions are very dangerous."

Sinclair, 45, died while spending 34 hours in Health Sciences Centre's emergency waiting room without being triaged.

Sinclair, who was referred there by an outside clinic because of a blocked urinary catheter, died of a bladder infection on Sept. 21, 2008.

The inquest has been told Sinclair may have died up to seven hours before he was discovered by hospital staff.

When asked by Preston whether she had any recommendations for the inquest, Cook only had one. "As health-care providers, we all need to be mindful of the need to respect the people who put their trust in us."

While Sinclair didn't access any HSC or WRHA programs for aboriginal patients, there are several available under the authority's aboriginal health program.

Cook said there are many programs because of the high number of patients who are aboriginal.

She said upwards of 60 per cent of patients at some facilities or programs are aboriginal.

Cook said at the high end are kidney dialysis patients, but there are large numbers of aboriginal patients in other areas of the hospitals. "Anecdotally, 40 to 60 per cent of our wards have aboriginal people," she said.

Cook said the aboriginal health program helps First Nation, Inuit and Métis patients at hospitals throughout the city access interpreters and elders, as well as helping advocate for them and assisting in discharge planning.

As well, Cook said the WRHA has programs to conduct cultural awareness seminars for staff as well as helping hire and retain aboriginal employees.

In 2003, aboriginal employees accounted for 16 per cent of people hired and they submitted 11 per cent of the total resumes received, Cook said.

"There is a specific focus on recruiting aboriginal staff and employees in areas where a greater number of aboriginals are seeking care," she said. Pointing to studies, Cook said "aboriginal patients are more comfortable receiving care from aboriginal health-care workers."

Later, Cook said a 2003 study into services for aboriginal patients at the HSC ER noted after six weeks of observing the department at various times and interviewing staff and patients, "no overtly racist or culturally insensitive interactions or practices were observed or reported."

But the study, produced by Wassenas Counselling, Research and Education Evaluation Services of Opaskwayak Cree Nation, said improvements still needed to be made, including hiring more aboriginals to work in the ER. The study had 15 other recommendations, including creating programs to recruit and retain aboriginal employees, have ER staff take cultural competency training, and hang posters with aboriginal images and art by aboriginal artists.

Cook said all have either been implemented or are still being worked on but as for art and posters "there is some of that... But at the end of the day it is the designer that finishes it."

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.