Health minister won't apologize for Rowley man's treatment until he hears all sides
Benoît Bourque says his department will investigate the case but results will not be made public
Health Minister Benoît Bourque didn't apologize Wednesday to the family of the late Greg Garnett for the way paramedics and nurses treated him when he writhed and screamed in severe pain.
"I cannot speak to the specifics of the case," Bourque said in an interview. "I am not in a position to say anymore at this time."
But Bourque said his department will be doing its own investigation into what happened and checking with regional health authorities.
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Cathy Garnett said she and her husband were told by paramedics who responded to their 911 call in Rowley, outside Saint John, that Greg's condition was back pain and "nothing serious."
He was in agony for five hours until a CT scan at the Saint John Regional Hospital revealed an aortic dissection.
The condition occurs when the inner lining of the aorta tears, sending blood flooding between the inner and middle layers of the blood vessel and causing the layers to separate or dissect. Dissections can be fatal, especially if the outer wall of the aorta ruptures.
The 52-year-old Garnett had emergency surgery, but he died five weeks later, in June 2017, from complications.
Cathy said she feels the paramedics, and the ER staff who accepted the paramedics' assessment of back pain, did not listen to Greg or the family, give him the care he needed or treat him with dignity.
She said her husband was kicked and yelled at by the paramedics, told to be quiet by a nurse, had to wait 40 minutes at the hospital before a doctor saw him, and didn't get the CT scan until more than two hours after he reached the ER.
Bourque said that if an apology to the family is warranted, he doesn't "have an issue of having such an apology being made."
"Whoever needs to give an apology, we will give an apology," the minister said. "We want to follow procedure in cases like this. We want to make sure we have all sides of the story and we need to have a balanced approach."
But he said any information gathered from the Health Department investigation will not be disclosed to the public. He cited the Health Quality and Patient Safety Act, which protects the private information of the patient.
Ombud calls for apology
Bourque said there are mechanisms within regional health authorities to register complaints and look at them. He said he wants to make sure these were followed.
"I want to make sure that everything that could be done has been done."
Bourque's statement came after New Brunswick's Ombud Charles Murray suggested Garnett is owed an apology from Ambulance New Brunswick and Horizon Health Network for what happened to her husband.
He also suggested Garnett's case underscored the need for independent oversight in such situations.
When asked whether the province needed a patient advocate independent from the health-care system, Bourque said it would be something the province would have to look into and he "would rather not comment any further."
Apology may not be enough
Garnett isn't sure an apology would be enough.
She said she's been meeting with officials with the Saint John Regional Hospital and Ambulance New Brunswick. She feels an apology now would be a formality, offered because it was required, not because they knew they'd done something wrong.
"To get an apology at this point, after meeting with them and trying to come to a resolution, to me it's not going to mean a whole lot," she said. "It's too little too late for me."
In 2016, the New Brunswick government passed legislation allowing government agencies to apologize in cases such as this without admitting any liability.
"To me that just shows the level of compassion that they have," Garnett said.
Instead, she's hoping someone will take the case seriously.
"These people coming into these hospitals, into these emergency rooms are someone's loved ones," she said.
"They need to start paying attention when family members tell them, 'Look something is wrong.'"
'Heartbreaking and unfortunate'
Bourque applauded New Brunswick's health-care system, while acknowledging it has flaws, saying there are cases where the system can't deal with all needs.
"They feel the health system has failed them and that is not something … we want to hear. We want to have a health-care system that works for all New Brunswickers," he said.
"These types of cases, I find them heartbreaking and really unfortunate."
Some of the issues involve staffing, and the province is working on the recruitment and retention of health-care workers, he said.