The death of a homeless, alcoholic woman who was found tied to a wheelchair in the ambulance bay of an Edmonton hospital four years ago is at the centre of a fatality inquiry.

"How did she die in the ambulance bay of emergency when she was seconds away from help?" asked provincial court judge Janet Dixon, who is hearing the inquiry. "She was dying while she was sitting there in that wheelchair. When they asked for help and no one gave it to her."

Sharon Lewis, 35, was a familiar patient at the downtown Royal Alexandra Hospital, gaining admission 112 times between October 2008 and December 2009, an average of once every four days.

On Boxing Day 2009, Lewis was a patient in the intensive care unit when, against medical advice, she discharged herself at 1:30 p.m.

At 2:40 p.m., hospital staff found her extremely intoxicated in the ICU waiting room after drinking hand cleaner, which contains 70 per cent alcohol.

She was detained by hospital security.

Two days later, she was discovered restrained in a wheelchair in the ambulance bay, dead from gross alcohol consumption.

What happened in those two days is not clear and will be closely examined at the inquiry.

"There's some reason emergency staff didn't provide care, if they were asked to provide care," Dixon said. "I need to understand why she died in the ambulance bay of the emergency department."

The fatality inquiry was scheduled to be held this week, but on Tuesday morning Lewis' mother and father told Dixon they wanted to take part.  

"It's your right to participate and I'm going to protect that right,"  Dixon told them.

Dixon told the court she wants to find out what policies are in place at the downtown hospital to deal with addicted and homeless patients. 

"I want to see if some greater good can come of her death," Dixon told Lewis' family.

Alberta Health Services did not make Lewis' death public in 2009.

In a written statement this week to CBC News, spokesman Kerry Williamson said he could not comment while the inquiry was under way.

"This was a tragic incident. Our deepest sympathies are with the family," he said.

No new date has been set for the inquiry.  

With files from CBC's Janice Johnston