New complaints against nurse paint grim picture of Cape Dorset health centre in 2012

A new series of complaints filed against former Nunavut nurse Debbie McKeown, and which she's fighting to have quashed, include accusations of misdiagnoses and refusal of care.

Debbie McKeown fighting allegations as abuse of process by nursing association

The nursing station in Cape Dorset, Nunavut. A new series of complaints filed against former Nunavut nurse Debbie McKeown, paints a grim picture events there in 2012 and 2013. (Amber Hildebrandt/CBC)

A new series of complaints filed against former Nunavut nurse Debbie McKeown, paints a grim picture of the Cape Dorset health centre in 2012 and 2013.

McKeown has already been disciplined for a string of complaints dating back to 2012. In April that year she refused to see three-month-old infant Makibi Timilak, who later died. Nunavut's coroner has called an inquest into the circumstances of the infant's death but a date has not yet been set.

The 19 new complaints, which McKeown is fighting in Nunavut civil court to have quashed, were filed as a conduct review in April by the executive director of the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, under the Nursing Profession Act.

The chair of the RNANT/NU's professional conduct committee launched an investigation into the complaints, but Tuesday in court in Iqaluit, McKeown's lawyer accused the association of an abuse of process.

The allegations range in date from January 2012 to August 2013, and include accusations of misdiagnosing patients, violating narcotic care policies and refusing patient care.

None of the allegations has been proven in court, or through the RNANT/NU's investigation.

One of the allegations says in the days following the death of Makibi Timilak, McKeown "failed to follow the mandated steps respecting investigation of a serious incident, as outlined in Government of Nunavut policy Risk Management Incident Reporting Guidelines."

Some of the other allegations

  • Allegation 3 says in February 2012, a 69-­year-­old woman was seen by McKeown for a two-­day history of a painful raised rash. McKeown diagnosed the rash as dermatitis and gave the patient hydrocortisone ointment. The patient returned to the health centre two days later with increased pain and an increase in the area covered by rash. Following an assessment by another nurse and a consultation with a doctor, the patient was diagnosed with shingles. Since more than three days had passed since the onset of symptoms, the patient could not be treated with the anti-viral drug acyclovir.
  • Allegation 10 says when McKeown was the nurse ­in ­charge in summer 2012, she asked another nurse, Heather Edwards, to inform a patient who was waiting in the lobby that her husband had died by suicide. Edwards called the patient into her treatment room and delivered the news. When Edwards left the clinic room McKeown told her she had been mistaken — the patient's son had died, not her husband — and McKeown wanted Edwards to tell the patient about the error. Edwards refused and told McKeown she made the error, so she should correct it. McKeown is accused of not following "any of the policy or procedure for dealing with a suicide."
  • Allegation 11 says in June 2012 a patient with a history of cardiac disease called the health centre, told the clerk he had been treated for a heart condition in Ottawa, and was told to come in. After he had been waiting for a while, a nurse came out to the lobby and told him he could not receive health care because he wasn't a resident of Cape Dorset. The allegation says McKeown was the nurse in charge at the time and was aware the patient was in the waiting area and the nurse was refusing him treatment.
  • Allegation 12 says a patient diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer in early 2012 was being seen regularly in Ottawa but was not having any follow-up in Cape Dorset. In August 2013, a nurse notified the region's acting director the latest follow-up from Ottawa indicated the cancer had metastasized to the patient's lung. The report from Ottawa had not been acted on and the patient was not having any follow-up. McKeown was the nurse in charge and responsible for reviewing all diagnostic and consult reports for follow up.
  • Allegation 13 says during an audit of the health centre, the following were found in a filing cabinet in McKeown's office: patient medical records, diagnostic reports and test results, the questions and answer key for the Supervisor of Community Health Programs human resources interview, and patient prescribed hydromorphone, a narcotic. The allegation says many of the documents required nursing action but nothing had been done as the nurses weren't aware the documents had been received.

McKeown's lawyer says allegations will be dealt with in court

McKeown's lawyer, Arthur Marshall, wouldn't comment on the validity of the latest complaints, and said they're handling the accusations through the court process.

"We're not going to discuss these allegations in public," Marshall said.

"What we are doing is asking the court to require [RNANT/NU] to file its record of documents that relate to these complaints. Once they've filed their record, we'll be addressing with the court our reasons why they should stop the association from going any further."

CBC News contacted the Government of Nunavut's department of health for comment. A department spokesperson could not provide a comment by publishing time.

CBC News was also unable to reach anyone from the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut for comment.