‘We weren’t heard:’ Northern Manitoba mom claims health-care negligence after daughter’s near-death experience

A mother from Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba is sharing her and her family’s experience at the isolated community’s nursing station, claiming their concerns about their daughter’s breathing were not listened to until the situation became critical.

Alexis Colomb said her then 7-month-old daughter, Lucillia Francois, started having laboured breathing on August 29th.

The 24-year-old mother of three told CTV News over eight days the family went back and forth to the nursing station several times.

“Eight exhausting, long days and nights in and out of that nursing station, 2-3 times a day,” she said. “We weren’t heard.”

Colomb said each time the baby was looked at, but when her vitals stabilized, the family was sent home only to have to come back a few hours later when her breathing became distressed again.

In the early morning of September 6th Colomb said Lucillia’s condition had worsened to the point where she was gasping for air.

“She was on the verge of actually passing out from the lack of oxygen she was getting,” she said.

In a panic, Colomb said she called the community’s medical van but after waiting 20 minutes, she ran over to her neighbours who gave them a ride to the nursing station instead.

It was then Colomb said Lucillia was transferred to Health Sciences Centre Children’s Hospital in Winnipeg.

“Her body was on the verge of stopping breathing because she was so tired. She was literally fighting for air so immediately we decided to intubate her.”

Colomb said Lucilla was put into a medically induced coma for five days and was on a ventilator for 10 days.

She said she was diagnosed with RSV, pneumonia and a blood infection.

Lucillia has since recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital and the family is waiting in Winnipeg for the all-clear from specialists before they head home.

Now that the family is on the other side of the emergency, Colomb is questioning why she and her daughter were sent home so many times when they repeatedly came to the Mathias Colomb Nursing Station for care.

“That is our only health-care system in that isolated community. The closest hospital is two and a half hours away,” she said. “I am thankful that I got her here. I fought for her but we shouldn’t have even gone through what we have gone through.”

 

STORY IS ALL-TOO-COMMON: MKO HEALTH SYSTEM NAVIGATOR

 

Bernice Thorassie, whose job it is to help northern First Nation families who are sent out of their community for health-care, told CTV News that Colomb’s story is not isolated.

“I am hearing that a lot,” the MKO Client Navigator told CTV News. “People go to the nursing station for pain for whatever reason it is, even a chest pain, they are given Tylenol plain.”

She also told CTV a lot of clients go back to the nursing station for an ongoing problem, but it’s only when their condition is critical that they are sent out of the community to an urban hospital.

This week, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin (KIM), and the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) signed a declaration to eliminate all forms of Indigenous-specific racism in Northern Manitoba health-care.

Thorassie said the signing was a good first step, but there is more work to do since many of the nursing stations on remote First Nations, including the one on Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, are run by the federal government.

“I am sure they will listen to us and I am sure they will team with us and start the steps on eliminating the anti-Indigenous racism within our health-care,” she said.

 

In March 2018 MKO and the federal government signed a memorandum of understanding. The goal was to transform health-care for people living on Northern Manitoba First Nations by bringing clinical care closer to home so people don’t have to leave their communities.

Wednesday morning a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs told CTV News in a written statement that the Government of Canada recognizes racism, resulting from Canada’s colonial history, remains embedded in our country’s health systems and continues to have catastrophic effects on First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals and communities.

They went on to write that ensuring cultural safety, recognizing Indigenous knowledge and supporting Indigenous-led health services are central to achieving the goal of eliminating anti-Indigenous racism in health systems.

“The Government of Canada remains committed to working with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous partners and all those who work in health-care to increase safety and respect for Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s health systems,” the statement said.

 

COLOMB STILL WAITING FOR THE COMPLAINT TO BE ADDRESSED

 

Colomb said she filed a formal complaint about her experience at the nursing station, but has yet to hear back.

“We go in for one reason and that is to be assessed and our health concerns to be heard but it is not happening. I just want them to do their job,” she said.

The ISC spokesperson told CTV News they could not comment on specific details or cases in order to protect patient confidentiality under the Privacy Act, but they did say, “We are aware of the concerns raised about care provided at the nursing station in Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, and we are working with partners to examine this incident under ISC’s incident management policy.”

Colomb wants others to hear about her family’s experience so they know they have to be persistent to get the health-care they deserve.

“Your health concerns can be heard but you are going to have to keep pushing,” she said. “Despite if they keep pushing you aside and trying to silence you. If something is wrong and you know it in your gut, then something is probably wrong.” 

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