British Columbia

Haisla woman and partner sue B.C.'s Northern Health after baby's death, alleging racism

A Haisla woman and her partner are suing Northern Health, two hospitals and health-care staff after their baby girl died. They allege they were not provided proper care and were subjected to racial stereotyping.

Civil lawsuit claims negligence, racial stereotyping by health-care staff in Kitimat and Terrace, B.C.

Kitimat General Hospital on B.C.'s North Coast is one of the defendants named in a civil lawsuit filed by a couple that alleges the facility's staff did not provide proper care, resulting in the death of their baby. (District of Kitimat)

A Haisla woman and her partner are suing the Northern Health authority, two hospitals and health-care staff after their baby girl died, alleging they were not provided proper care and were subjected to racial stereotyping.

A notice of claim in the Indigenous mother's case was filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced a review into the case on Jan. 29.

According to court documents, Sarah Morrison and Ronald Luft from Kitimat were expecting their first child together and arrived at Kitimat General Hospital in the North Coast community after Morrison started experiencing contractions.

The lawsuit claims Luft was videotaping and commenting on camera about their pregnancy journey and then a nurse started monitoring the baby's heartbeat, which the couple alleges was recorded at 140 beats per minute in medical records provided to them.

The plaintiffs allege Morrison told the nurse that she was leaking amniotic fluid but there was no further assessment of her concern.

The documents allege a doctor then came in to speak to Morrison after about 10 minutes.

Dr. Li Huang, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, then allegedly told the patients that "there was nothing he could do for them and that he did not understand why they came to Kitimat General Hospital, stating they should have gone to the hospital in Terrace."

Morrison alleges she and the baby's father became distressed after the doctor did not examine her or offer to assess her.

Couple seeks help at Terrace Hospital

The couple say in the lawsuit they called an ambulance to Kitimat General Hospital in an effort to get to a different hospital in Terrace which is about a 45-minute drive away.

They allege the ambulance took them from one end of the hospital parking lot to the other and an ambulance attendant refused to take them to Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace saying Dr. Huang told them that it was not necessary to transport them by ambulance.

The couple claims the attendant asked them if they would be able to pay for the ambulance.

In the documents, Morrison says her father picked them up from the parked ambulance and drove them to the hospital in Terrace as her contractions increased.

B.C. Emergency Health Services has said paramedics received a call for a maternity patient on Jan. 27 located outside Kitimat General Hospital but did not transport the patient.

Morrison alleges she waited for 15 minutes for care in Terrace and was set up with a heart-rate monitor, but wasn't asked any questions about her medical history.

In her claim, she says three doctors and two nurses then told her they were unable to find the baby's heartbeat after an electric fetal heart rate examination and an ultrasound.

Morrison alleges she "begged" Dr. Jaco Strydom to perform a caesarean delivery to "save her baby" but was told he did not see the point and it wasn't in her best interest for future pregnancies.

The couple then say they attempted to leave the hospital to find help elsewhere, but Morrison's mother arrived at that time and tried to advocate for medical help.

Just before 2 a.m., Morrison gave birth to a baby girl who was named Coral-Lee Edith Cheryl Luft.

Morrison alleges there were no attempts made to resuscitate or examine the baby and that the baby girl was washed, wrapped in a blanket and given to her.

Allegations of racism

The couple alleges racial stereotyping and error in Morrison's medical records which they believe influenced how they were treated by health-care staff.

They claim there were "racial tropes" and "stereotype facts" included in her medical records: that she was in an abusive relationship, her parents and grandparents have diabetes, her parents are alcoholics and recovering from drugs and that she was depressed. Morrison alleges no information was ever collected. 

The couple say they have been suffering emotional and psychological trauma, anxiety, loss of the will to live, grief, shame and embarrassment. Morrison alleges health-care providers also failed to offer her grief or trauma counselling.

They are claiming negligence and conscious disregard of their rights and are seeking damages and costs of health-care services.

Health officials have not commented on the details of what happened citing privacy reasons. 

A statement of defence has not yet been filed. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

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