No hesitation to send ambulance for Cynthia Blackjack, nurses tells inquest
Nurses were devastated to hear of Blackjack's death in 2013, inquest jury hears
Two nurses testifying at the Cynthia Blackjack inquest in Yukon said there was no hesitation to send an ambulance to pick up the ailing woman, the day she died.
Nurse Terry Ogilvie was working at the Carmacks Health Centre on Nov. 7, 2013, when the call came for an ambulance to be sent to the house of Blackjack's grandmother.
The coroner's inquest, now underway in Whitehorse, is looking at the circumstances around 29-year-old Cynthia Blackjack's death later that day, during a medevac flight to Whitehorse.
One of the central questions raised at the inquest so far is whether Blackjack should have been transported to Whitehorse General Hospital sooner. The Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, of which Blackjack was a member, has suggested "systemic racism" as a potential factor.
In 2018, the Yukon Court of Appeal found that in the days before she died, Blackjack had been in frequent contact with the Carmacks Health Centre complaining of severe dental pain. The day before she died, Blackjack was told by the health centre in Carmacks to go to the Whitehorse hospital — a two-hour drive away. Staff at the health centre say they tried to help find Blackjack a ride, but were unsuccessful.
They [health centre staff] weren't very nice.- Dacia Tulk, Cousin
Ogilvie told the inquest that her memory of the day Blackjack died is spotty, but she recalls at least three nurses and two doctors who saw Blackjack in Carmacks on that day. She said that's an unusually high number of staff.
Ogilvie also said anyone with symptoms like Blackjack's would get an ambulance or medevac to Whitehorse as soon as possible.
Deb Crosby, the former nurse in charge of the Carmacks Health Centre, also testified on Wednesday and supported Ogilvie's claim that there was no hesitation to send an ambulance.
She told the inquest jurors that staff at the health centre could almost always arrange rides to Whitehorse for patients. But Crosby said she had to be cautious about sending Carmacks's only ambulance out of the community.
"You're always thinking about the worst-case scenario," she said.
When Blackjack arrived at the health centre on Nov. 7, staff immediately called Whitehorse for a medevac flight, Crosby said.
According to Ogilvie, the Carmacks nurses were devastated when RCMP later told them Blackjack had died on the plane before reaching Whitehorse.
A kind and loving person
The nurses' testimony marked the start of the Whitehorse portion of the inquest, which is expected to continue at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre until Jan. 31. The first two days of testimony were held at the recreation centre in Carmacks.
In Carmacks, the inquest heard from some of Blackjack's family and friends. They described her as a kind and loving person with a lively sense of humour.
The inquest jury heard that Blackjack had problems with alcohol, but her cousin, Dacia Tulk, testified that Blackjack was excited to start a new job with the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation.
Blackjack's friend, Vanessa Charlie, said the ambulance she called for Blackjack took more than two hours to arrive. According to logs entered as evidence, it took the ambulance 20 minutes to get to Blackjack and another 20 to get her to the health centre.
Witnesses in Carmacks also testified that nurses at the health centre are frequently dismissive of Indigenous patients, especially if those patients have been drinking.
"They [health centre staff] weren't very nice," Tulk said. "Not at all."
Charlie also told jurors that three weeks after Blackjack's death, she called an ambulance for a white man in the community. That time, she said, the ambulance arrived in 10 minutes.
With files from Chris Windeyer