Manitoba

'A great injustice': Northern Manitoba man dies after waiting 6½ hours for air ambulance

The family of a northern Manitoba man who died after waiting 6½ hours for an air ambulance flight is demanding answers from the province for why he faced such a delay in emergency care.

Gordon Jebb's daughter wants answers, says 'he might have survived ... we will never know"

Gordon Jebb, centre, with his daughters Chenae and Cassidy Bear. Jebb had a heart attack at his home on Opaskwayak Cree Nation, and waited more than six hours for a Lifeflight. He later died. (Submitted by Chenae Bear)

The daughter of Gordon Jebb, who waited 6½ hours in a northern hospital for air transport out to Winnipeg where he died days later, is demanding answers from the province about why he faced such delay in emergency care.

"It shouldn't have taken that long. A plane should have been there immediately and there should've been people waiting on standby to go with him," said Chenae Bear, Jebb's 27-year old daughter.

Jebb, 53, lived on Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas. He had a heart attack at home on July 2.

Gordon Jebb died after waiting more than six hours to be flown to Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg from The Pas. (Submitted)

He went by ambulance to the hospital in The Pas at about 10:30 a.m., where he was treated for several hours before doctors decided he should be transferred to Winnipeg. He remained on life support until about 10:30 that night when an air ambulance plane arrived.

A provincial spokesperson said the plane came 6½ hours after the initial call for air transport, a delay the province is investigating. Jebb died on Friday, July 5, in Winnipeg.

"If there had been a plane ready, and he had immediately been taken to the HSC, he might have survived. We will never know that. But that option was completely taken away. And that angers me very much as his daughter," Bear said.

"I feel it's a great injustice to him and to my family."

The delay happened during a two-week stint in late June and early July when Lifeflight doctors, which help staff the air ambulance planes and respond to the most critical calls, refused to fly.

At the time, they cited safety concerns with the private King Air 200s that took over after the program's two Cessna Citation jets were grounded and nine pilots were laid off.

The doctors are flying again after some safety modifications were made to the King Air 200s that now handle the entire Lifeflight service.

Jebb's family feels his care suffered in the interim and they worry it might happen again to other northern families.

"They had no plan for him and he was just left to sit and wait for a plane, which is I think absolutely ridiculous. And it's appalling. And it's hurtful. Because nobody should be waiting that long after suffering a heart attack," Bear said.

NDP calls for an inquiry

The NDP MLA for The Pas, who advocated for the family at the hospital in The Pas and went to Jebb's funeral, is echoing his daughter's calls for answers, calling on the province's chief medical examiner to conduct an inquiry into his death.

Amanda Lathlin said she wants to know what the province's plan was in the weeks the Lifeflight doctors didn't fly, and what it will be going forward.

"We had a system in place, I cannot stress that enough, we had a system in place that was working," she said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the province wrote, "We extend our sympathies to friends and family of Gordon Jebb for their loss.

"While privacy laws prevent us from going into details of a particular case, this patient received continuous care from providers throughout this process — first from his physician in The Pas and then from advanced care paramedics — before arriving in Winnipeg," wrote the spokesperson.

"The minister has asked departmental staff and clinical leadership to review this case to determine what steps could have been taken to have sped up the patient transport process. That review is ongoing."

The Lifeflight program relied on two Cessna Citations, which are now out of service. Physicians say the private King Air 200s didn't have the same safety features for transport of critical patients, while government says all safety criteria are met. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Renate Singh, Lifeflight's medical director, said doctors have agreed to get back on board after recent safety changes to the King Air 200s, including modifications to seatbelts and storage for monitoring equipment and improvements to lifts.

"Patient care needs to continue, so we've accepted the bare minimum changes that we consider to make our service safe, in order to keep doing business, in hopes that things will get better," Singh said.

"That's why we agreed to get back flying, just because no one else is going to agree to go get these people if we don't do it."

Never regained consciousness

Jebb had the heart attack at home, and his sister called 911 and started CPR, according to his brother Patrick Young, who also lives in Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

RCMP continued CPR until paramedics arrived and transported him to St. Anthony's General Hospital, about a 15-20 minute drive away.

Jebb's family said he never regained consciousness after the initial attack, but the wait for transport added to their trauma.

"Hopefully no other family has to go through what we had to go through and hopefully the situation will be resolved," Young said.

Bear echoed her uncle's sentiments, saying she wants answers for her family and for future patients.

"I want somebody to tell me there's a plan set in place for the next time this happens," said Bear.

Many of Jebb's friends and family gathered in The Pas for his funeral last week.

"He liked to keep things lighthearted. And he was just a kind, loving person and I loved him very much, and I miss him very much, and I just feel like that was a terrible way to go," Bear said.

"Just because of where he lived, it shouldn't have affected the medical treatment he received. He loved living in the north. That was his home," she said.

"The government needs to understand it's a necessity for people living in the north. Receiving adequate immediate health care when you need it is a necessity. It's a basic human right."

About the Author

Erin Brohman

Health reporter

Erin Brohman is a former pediatric nurse at the Stollery Children Hospital in Edmonton and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. After graduating from King's College with a journalism degree, she took off to Yellowknife to work for CBC North for nearly two years, then settled in Winnipeg. At CBC Manitoba she blends her interests in health care and sharing people's stories. Story tip? Email erin.brohman@cbc.ca.