Numerous complaints surface about Flin Flon hospital

CBC News has learned of more than a dozen complaints about the care being provided at the hospital in Flin Flon, Man., from patients and their families as well as several nurses and one doctor.

Patients and staff level concerns, allegations of misdiagnoses

CBC News has learned of more than a dozen complaints about the care being provided at the hospital in Flin Flon, Man., from patients and their families as well as some staff. 2:50

CBC News has learned of more than a dozen complaints about the care being provided at the hospital in Flin Flon, Man., from patients and their families as well as some staff.

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"I'm terrified for my family, children, grandchildren," said Brenda Watling, who lives in Flin Flon.

"If you don't speak up, you don't change anything — you don't get anywhere."

The Flin Flon General Hospital is the only hospital in the community.

However, the CBC News I-Team has learned that many people are opting to drive for hours when they require medical attention, in order to avoid accessing the hospital for fear the care is inadequate.

The I-Team is also aware that several nurses and at least one doctor have expressed concerns about the quality of care at the hospital.

Review set for this month

Helga Bryant, the chief executive officer of the Northern Regional Health Authority, says she is aware of public concern about the hospital and its emergency room.

Bryant said she hopes patient and staff concerns will be addressed by an independent emergency room review set for this month.

"We hope to get at some of the issues you talked about. They're of concern to us as well, and we will be supporting that review fully and will welcome the recommendations and comments from those two expert reviewers," Bryant said.

"We'll look at medical records, pull charts, look at the presentation of a patient and the care plan and diagnostics ordered."

The review will be led by Dr. Ted Kesselman, the head of emergency physicians at the Seven Oaks Hospital in Winnipeg, along with nurse Lori Ulrich.

Bryant said she expects the report to be ready in October or November, and she hopes it will offer guidance on how to improve the systems in place at the hospital.

ER head suspended

Bryant is also facing a situation she admits is a first in her long career.

The doctor in charge of the emergency room in Flin Flon is currently suspended while the RCMP investigate a fight that took place last month at the hospital between two doctors.

"We are humans working in a human system," she said.

"Much of this is about teamwork, and we must create an environment where nurses and physicians in particular trust each other and communicate well with each other, because any animosity among the team impacts negatively on the patient."

5 people share their stories

The I-Team travelled to Flin Flon last month and heard numerous complaints of misdiagnoses and people feeling ignored by staff at the emergency room.

Five people chose to share their personal stories:

1. Randy McCallum

Randy McCallum. (CBC)

Randy McCallum is a husband and father. A year and a half ago, he was so ill that he turned to the Flin Flon hospital's emergency room and felt he needed urgent help.

"Oh, sick. Oh God, shaky sweats, sore," he recalled.

McCallum said after he waited two hours in the emergency room, he was told he had a sexually transmitted infection. He was given a prescription to treat the infection and sent home, he said.

McCallum said he continued to feel very ill after being released from the hospital.

Days later, his family doctor contacted him with a very different diagnosis: diabetes.

McCallum has since been treated for his diabetes and is feeling well, but he said he has lost trust in the Flin Flon General Hospital.

2. Corinne Feuerstein

Corinne Feuerstein. (CBC)

Corinne Feuerstein lost her 51-year-old daughter, Denise, in May 2011.

Feuerstein said Denise, a wife and a mother of two children, began feeling severe abdominal pain and was admitted to the Flin Flon General Hospital for observation.

"They were saying it had to do with the gases of her stomach and that, but they didn't give her any tests," said Feuerstein.

"And then about the seventh day, eighth day, she started to throw up blood."

Feuerstein said her daughter was rushed to the hospital's emergency room, where doctors didn't know what was wrong.

"There was this pan on her belly where she'd been throwing up into," said Feuerstein.

Corinne Feuerstein's daughter, Denise, died in May 2011. (Family photo)

"You don't have to be a licensed nurse or practitioner or whatever to tell that there's tissue from the stomach that was in the blood."

Feuerstein said she and her son-in-law pleaded for her daughter to be rushed to a major hospital. 

"If you don't know what's wrong with her here, please send her out," she said.

"They said, 'Oh, no, they got it all settled down and they were going to move her back to her own room.' Well, they moved her back up to her room and 24 hours later she was found laying on the floor in her room and they said she was dead. She'd bled out internally."

To this day, Feuerstein doesn't know what caused her daughter's death.

She said she had requested an autopsy for Denise and was told her daughter's death did not meet the criteria for being "suspicious."

3. Ron Radics

Ron Radics. (CBC)

Ron Radics says his life will not be the same without his late wife, Gail Radics, who died in the spring of 2010.

"She was a very nice person, very well-liked," Ron Radics said.

"She was always the person who always tried to take care of everybody else," he added. "It's not a healthy thing when you lose your loved one, soulmate."

Radics said his wife struggled with her health for more than a year before her death. She was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a rare blood disorder.

Gail Radics was given blood transfusions and medication, then released from the hospital.

Gail Radics died in the spring of 2010. (Family photo)

Still, Radics said his wife's illness persisted. A year later, it got so bad that she was rushed to Winnipeg, where doctors determined she had advanced stage non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.  

"They were very surprised that it was that far advanced. Usually when they get cases of Hodgkin's lymphoma, it's in Stage 2 [or] 3 where … a patient has a fighting chance…. She didn't have a fighting chance because of what happened here," Radics said.

"For the type of leukemia she had, it's curable. It's one of the most curable cancers there is. And it should never have happened."

4. Brenda Watling

Brenda Watling. (CBC)

Watling is the sister of Gail Radics. She said after her sister's death, she turned to the Flin Flon General Hospital with her own health problems.

Watling said she experienced chest pain and was concerned about her heart, but she was told she had acid reflux and was sent home.

She said she got a second opinion and was placed on heart medication.

Watling said her teenage grandson was also sent away from the hospital when he had a severe headache.

When the headache persisted, his parents took him to a hospital hours away in Saskatoon, where he was diagnosed with meningitis.

"This is not just happening to my family alone," she said. "Many people are terrified."

5. Ron Sommerfeldt

Ron Sommerfeldt. (CBC)

Ron Sommerfeldt and his wife, Linda, moved to Flin Flon six years ago and have both worked in hospitals in Winnipeg. Linda Sommerfeldt is a retired nurse.

Ron Sommerfeldt has a heart condition. The couple filed a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons following his treatment at the Flin Flon General Hospital's emergency room.

Sommerfeldt said he arrived experiencing chest pain and the ER staff did not monitor his vitals properly.

"I know how things are supposed to be handled. You should at least have a nurse or doctor there immediately to check you out at triage," he said.

"We didn't hear from anyone. We basically waited then until the doctor did come in with the EKG. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing wrong with it."

The Sommerfeldts were concerned when it appeared the ER doctor did not recognize an existing blockage in the EKG.

The college dismissed the complaint.  

"Up here in Flin Flon, it's pretty difficult to go against the system, but it needs to be done," said Sommerfeldt.

"You just basically are beating your head against a brick wall to get anything done about it." 

Concerns raised in 2010

This is not the first time the Flin Flon General Hospital has been the subject of public criticism.

In the fall of 2010, the Manitoba government became concerned about ongoing issues at the hospital and within the now-defunct Nor-Man Regional Health Authority.

There were specific concerns about the "quality of patient care" at the hospital in Flin Flon. 

In December 2010, a public forum was held where 350 citizens came to put their concerns to administrators and politicians.

The concerns raised at the forum prompted the health minister to launch an external review of the health region. Drew Lockhart, the former CEO of the health authority, resigned.

Forty-four recommendations were made in May 2011 to address issues, including specific recommendations for the community of Flin Flon.

Bryant said the 44 recommendations are "largely in place."


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