Iqaluit authorities make changes after inquest

The RCMP and the City of Iqaluit say they are making changes in light of a coroner's inquest into the 2009 death of Elisapee Michael, who spent 14 hours in police custody despite a head injury.

The RCMP and the City of Iqaluit say they are making changes in light of a coroner's inquest into the 2009 death of Elisapee Michael, who spent 14 hours in a police drunk tank despite a head injury.

Michael, 52, died several days after falling down the front stairs of the Nova Inn in Iqaluit on Aug. 8, 2009.

The inquest, which wrapped up last week, heard that Michael was initially taken to Qikiqtani General Hospital but was transferred into RCMP custody a few hours later, after medical staff determined that she was intoxicated and disruptive.

Michael spent the next 14 hours in the Iqaluit RCMP detachment's drunk tank until staff noticed she was showing signs of brain damage. She was flown to an Ottawa hospital, where she died of head injuries on Aug. 13.

The six-person inquest jury issued 29 recommendations to the RCMP, the city and Nunavut's Health and Social Services Department on Thursday, all aimed at preventing a similar death from happening in the future.

Iqaluit RCMP Supt. Howard Eaton said the police force is reviewing all of the jury's recommendations, along with 10 of its own recommendations from an independent review.

Speaking to reporters Monday in Iqaluit, Eaton said changes are being made. For example, RCMP officers who find people passed out will take those individuals to the hospital first.

New transfer policy

As well, the RCMP has a new policy on transferring hospital patients into RCMP custody, Eaton said.

"The members now will make sure that they know the background, they're going to talk to a physician, and there's going to be a signature obtained to say that this person is going to be fit to stay cells, medically fit," Eaton said.

Elisapee Michael, 52, died on Aug. 13, 2009, days after she fell head-first down the metal front stairs of the Nova Inn in Iqaluit. ((CBC))

The new approach will prevent injured people from ending up in police custody, Eaton said.

The RCMP will also make sure their detachment guards are properly trained, and check on the responsiveness of people in cells every two hours, he added.

Eaton said it is his preference that disruptive patients stay in a secure area of the hospital, not in an RCMP cell. The jury made a similar recommendation at the end of the inquest.

"Well, we're all for it," he said.

The City of Iqaluit, which is responsible for emergency medical services in the Nunavut capital, says paramedics will write down details about the patients they pick up.

A form for such details is currently being designed, according to officials. Currently, information about a patient is passed verbally between paramedics and hospital staff.

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern said she is thankful for the inquest jury's work.

"I think that the recommendations are, without a doubt, well thought out and will assist all the institutions involved in emergency medical responses to improve the level of care that people are provided in our community," she said.

The Nunavut Health and Social Services Department is still reviewing the inquest jury's recommendations.