Pneumonia Deaths Raise Fears In Northern Manitoba

By Lloyd Dolha

The mother of a baby who has been recovering from double pneumonia in a Winnipeg hospital since November 29th says she’s worried about having to return to the northern Manitoba First Nation where they live. Freedom Castel’s seven month-old daughter Julie has been recovering in Winnipeg since they were flown out of the Pukatawagan First Nation on November 26th, a remote First Nation located about 700 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

The child was suffering from respiratory problems, and Castel said she had taken Julie to the First Nation’s nursing station several times, only to be sent home with pain killers. “They didn’t know what it was. They were just guessing… I lost my trust in the nurses back home,” said Castel in a CBC interview. “I don’t know if I’ll feel safe now [about] going back home.” It was only after the family demanded that the child be treated that Julie was flown to Winnipeg, where she was seen by doctors before being admitted to hospital.

Manitoba First Nations leaders were already calling for a public inquiry and inquest after a two-month old infant died after being treated at a nursing station on the God’s Lake Narrows First Nation in northern Manitoba. Grand Chiefs David Harper and Derek Nepinak said two month-old Drianna Ross died as a result of poor medical care at a nursing station in that remote community, 500 kilometres north of Winnipeg. The infant’s parents, Paul Ross and Erna Hastings, said they took their baby daughter to the nursing station on Thursday, November 24th. The child was crying, coughing, and barely breathing, yet they were sent home with painkillers. “We know when our baby’s sick,” said Ross to reporters. The following day, when Drianna’s condition further deteriorated, she was flown to hospital in Thompson where she died Saturday morning in her father’s arms.

The God’s Lake Narrows nursing station has five nurses, and doctors are available on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “It could have been easily prevented if the medical team acted right away, rather than waiting for this baby’s condition to deteriorate,” said Chief Michael Yellowback of the God’s River First Nation. Health Canada said it will conduct a review into Drianna Ross’s death, and officials will meet with the family after the review is complete. A spokesperson for Manitoba’s chief medical examiner’s office said it is too soon to tell if a public inquiry will be held.

Another Family from Pukatawagan is calling for changes to health care in their community after their 12 year-old granddaughter died from pneumonia. Gary Dumas said his granddaughter Britany Pruden fell sick in mid-November. Her aunt repeatedly took Britney to the nursing station, only to be sent home with Tylenol each time. A week later, Pruden got up in the morning burning with fever. A few days later, her condition deteriorated rapidly. Dumas said he tried to help her fever with a sponge bath. Britany was found dead in the bathroom. RCMP investigators determined she died from complications from pneumonia.

In light of the two recent deaths from pneumonia, Castel said she wonders what could happen if Julie falls ill again in remote Pukatawagan. The concerned mother said after a week of being on a ventilator in a pediatric intensive care unit, Julie’s condition has improved. Castel said she is upset the family had to urge the nursing station to call a doctor in Winnipeg, who then had to determine if Julie was ill enough to be flown out of the community. Last year, Manitoba spent about $21 million on medical evacuation trips. Health Canada said there is a protocol that physicians must follow in determining whether a person should be evacuated to better facilities for care.