Mother died awaiting surgery amid crowded 'chaos' at St. Boniface ER, Manitoba woman says
63-year-old rushed to hospital on day internal memo suggests staff were told to turn away non-urgent patients
A Manitoba woman believes her mother might still be alive if St. Boniface Hospital's emergency room had been less chaotic on the day she was waiting for potentially life-saving surgery — the same day staff turned people away amid a bed shortage.
Madeliene Richard, 63, waited more than four hours after she was rushed to hospital Wednesday with suspected complications stemming from a recent coronary bypass surgery and died shortly after midnight, said Monica Richard, her daughter.
Richard is her mother's next of kin but lives in Angusville, Man., 290 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
An aunt, her only other relative in Winnipeg, called 911 and went to the hospital with Madeliene that night.
She said Madeliene was struggling to breathe when she arrived in the ER, Richard said.
"She was having gurgling sounds, she couldn't breathe and, when she arrived, she was having almost no blood pressure," she said. "When they got there and finally got an [operating room] for her, it was too late."
Her mother arrived at St. Boniface Hospital at about 6:30 p.m. on June 12 but wasn't taken in for the operation until close to 11:30 p.m., Richard said. She died shortly after midnight.
'Sitting there bleeding out'
Richard said her mother's heart surgery in May didn't go as planned; she experienced two bleeds that dragged the surgery on for nearly 24 hours.
Her mother also may have been discharged prematurely, Richard said.
She was sent home June 3 and told by hospital staff a special bed would be sent home with her and home care would be arranged.
However, nurses or health-care aides didn't show up once in the 10 days between when her mother was sent home and when she was rushed back to hospital, Richard said.
When she was rushed back, staff took her mother's vitals and found her blood pressure was practically non-existent, Richard said.
They should have taken her mother into surgery immediately, knowing her past complications, Richard said.
"Her heart had no more blood in it when they opened it up," Richard said through tears.
"They had left her sitting there bleeding out for hours in the emergency room."
An internal memo sent to St. Boniface Hospital staff was leaked to Global News on June 13 and detailed "unsafe" and "critical" volumes of patients on Wednesday, June 12, when Madeliene was brought in.
St. Boniface ER physician Dr. Paul Doucet raised concerns about the capacity in the emergency room.
He said he notified hospital administration of his concerns about the influx, and administration issued a directive to turn away non-urgent patients that day.
Staff did everything they could: source
After learning about that memo, Richard questioned whether the cardiac surgeons who should have been working on her mother were busy juggling other cases.
"I started to realize that maybe her life could've been saved. They just didn't act quick enough," she said.
"I don't know if it was the ER staff were too overrun that day or what was going on in that building, but it doesn't seem right."
My mom was only 63 and she wasn't on her deathbed.- Monica Richard
CBC News spoke to a hospital staff member who was working that day.
They said that Madeliene should have been brought into surgery sooner, and her death could have been prevented.
Emergency staff knew time was of the essence and were frantic to get her to a specialist and into the operating room.
The emergency staff did everything they could for her while she waited, the staff member said.
They felt the delay in care had less to do with the influx of patients in the ER that day, and more to do with the response time of the specialists.
'We need these ERs open'
Richard, a mother of five kids, said she is considering taking legal action against the hospital.
She believes the Pallister government's health-care overhaul, which called for the closure of three of six Winnipeg emergency rooms, is making it difficult for health-care staff to properly care for those most in need.
"We need these ERs open. We don't need these cuts, and how many more lives have to be lost before they realize this, and [how much] more chaos?" she asked.
"My mom was only 63 and she wasn't on her deathbed, I'll tell you that. She was very lively."
In a statement to CBC News, hospital board chair Tom Carson said he could not comment publicly because of patient privacy laws.
"We encourage all patients and families to share their experience at St. Boniface Hospital with our patient relations office so that we can look into the matter and improve our services to the public," the statement read.
With files from Meaghan Ketcheson, Bryce Hoye and Marina Von Stackelberg