HSC officials explain missing footage at Sinclair inquest

An inquest has been told that a man who died in a hospital emergency room was ignored almost the entire 34 hours he was waiting for care, even when he threw up three times.

Inquest hears six minutes of tape surrounding the time of Brian Sinclair's death are missing

The inquest into the 2008 death of Brian Sinclair in a Winnipeg hospital emergency waiting room finds out that six minutes of surveillance camera footage is missing. 1:46

An inquest was told Tuesday that a man who died in a hospital emergency room was ignored almost the entire 34 hours he was waiting for care, even when he threw up three times.

Missing footage

On Tuesday, the inquest heard six minutes of tape from the emergency room at the Health Sciences Centre, where Sinclair died, was missing from evidence. The six minutes were the precise time staff realized Sinclair was dead. That revelation was made by the Sinclair family's lawyer. The officer in charge or reviewing the footage said he had not previously noticed the five minutes were missing until the lawyer pointed it out.

The inquest heard a security guard realized Sinclair was not breathing and took him to get help. He was pronounced dead at 12:51 a.m. on Sept. 21, 2008. The security camera footage is missing from 12:47 a.m. to about 12:53 a.m.

In testimony heard later in the afternoon, Norman Schatz, the co-ordinator of investigations and staff development for HSC, told the inquest the cameras activate via a motion sensor. He said he "assumed there was no motion during those six minutes."

However, right before the camera cuts off and when it resumes taping, motion can be seen in the corners of the frame.  

Sgt. John O'Donovan said 150 people moved through the ER the weekend Brian Sinclair died, but he was the only one who didn't receive medical treatment.

O'Donovan, who watched the surveillance footage of Sinclair's time at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre in September 2008, said the video shows no one paid attention to the double amputee while he languished in the emergency department.

"He was the only person who wasn't provided medical treatment," O'Donovan testified. "I don't know if he was being ignored on purpose. They weren't aware of him there. He was ignored during his time there."

Sinclair went to the emergency room because he hadn't urinated in 24 hours. The video footage shows Sinclair arriving at the hospital by taxi and speaking to a triage aide. The aide appears to take notes on a pad of paper.

The sick man wheeled himself into the waiting room where he remained until he was discovered dead 34 hours later.

Manitoba's chief medical examiner has testified the 45-year-old died from a treatable bladder infection caused by a blocked catheter. He said Sinclair needed about half-an-hour of medical treatment, including a catheter change and a prescription for antibiotics.

After Sinclair had been waiting for almost 24 hours, he vomited on himself three times, O'Donovan said. Medical staff moved in and out of the waiting room during that period, but never approached Sinclair, O'Donovan added. "They were aware he had thrown up. He was provided with a basin by a member of the cleaning staff."

Arlene Wilgosh, president of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, was in court for the video and said she found it disturbing. She also said she it was "concerning" that Sinclair vomited on himself three times but was never examined by medical staff.

"I found the video difficult to watch," she said. "Mr. Sinclair came to us seeking care. As we've said before, we failed to provide that care, so I did find the video difficult to watch."

The hospital has significantly changed the way it triages ER patients and no longer relies on pads of paper to keep track of people seeking care, Wilgosh said. Names are now entered electronically and people are given a wristband to help keep track of who needs to be triaged.

Staff also routinely go through the waiting room to reassess those who are waiting, she added.

"We are accountable," Wilgosh said. "We have put in measures to try and ensure this does not happen again."

Sinclair family lawyer Vilko Zbogar pointed out that six minutes of surveillance footage, covering the time when Sinclair was found dead and was wheeled away, are missing. O'Donovan said he hadn't noticed the missing footage before and didn't know why it is missing since the cameras were apparently working.

Norman Schatz, head of security at Health Sciences Centre, told the inquest the cameras aimed at Sinclair were designed to record only when they detected motion. (Ryan Hicks/CBC)

Norman Schatz, head of security at Health Sciences Centre, told the inquest the cameras record only when they detect motion. Sinclair was seated underneath the camera and wasn't visible unless the camera scanned the room.

"One can assume there was no motion during that six minutes." Police spent a year investigating Sinclair's death. No criminal charges were laid.

The inquest has heard Sinclair had a difficult life. He abused solvents which caused brain damage, lived on the street and lost both his legs to frostbite when he was found frozen to the wall of a church in the dead of winter.

The inquest is to sit until Thursday and resume again in October.

With files from CBC News