'She could have died': Grandparents disappointed with granddaughter's care at Hay River hospital

The family of a two-year-old girl who was later diagnosed with double pneumonia say Hay River's hospital failed the child, prompting the family to drive her to Yellowknife where she was admitted to emergency.

'It's a two-year-old we're talking about. She could have died,' says Lucy Simon

Hay River's hospital, where two grandparents say their granddaughter was not properly assessed and was sent away without a diagnosis of double pneumonia. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Two N.W.T. grandparents say their experience with the Hay River hospital over their grandchild's care has shaken their confidence in the hospital.

Their two-year-old granddaughter became ill last week. After three visits to the hospital over four days saw their granddaughter sent home after each visit, the child's parents drove her to Yellowknife for care where the child was diagnosed with double pneumonia.

Lucy Simon and Betty Buggins, the grandmothers of the child on both sides of the family, spoke to CBC on behalf of their son and daughter.

"Something should be done about the Hay river hospital … I'm not going to tolerate this," said Simon.

Simon believes the hospital may have missed the double pneumonia, and she wants staff to learn from the incident and take patient concerns more seriously.

"I think they should know about that ... it's a two-year-old we're talking about. She could have died."

The days leading up to their emergency trip to Yellowknife were stressful, said Simon. The family knew the child was sick, but nurses and doctors they visited three times between Monday and Thursday last week said Tylenol would do the job. 

According to the family, hospital staff examined the child, but sent her home each time with instructions to return if her condition got worse, at which point the baby might be sent to Yellowknife.

But out of concern for the child's health, the family ultimately decided to pay their own way to visit the emergency room at the territorial hospital in Yellowknife. 

"I do what I have to do for my kids and my grandchildren," Simon said.

Crackling lungs 

Buggins has worked in elder care settings, and had a stethoscope.

On Thursday, shortly after their final visit to Hay River's hospital, Buggins heard crackling in her granddaughter's lungs. She said this meant there was no time to waste because it could indicate a number of conditions, one being fluid in the lungs. 

"For the nurse to tell us [Thursday] that her lungs were clear and we didn't have to worry about it? Our one big concern was the lungs because they develop pneumonia so fast," said Buggins.

So on Thursday, the child's parents raced to Yellowknife, but Buggins was worried the child's condition would worsen on the ride there. They made plans for check-ins at Fort Providence and near Behchokǫ̀ as possible exit points if the child needed to be evacuated for emergency care.

Throughout the ride, the mother had trouble waking the child and she would not drink water, Buggins said.

By the time they arrived in Yellowknife at 11:30 p.m. the child was vomiting and immediately admitted to Stanton Territorial Hospital, where she was put on an IV, given X-rays and diagnosed with double pneumonia.

The child was on intravenous antibiotics and stayed at the hospital until 2 a.m. on Friday. 

By Sunday, she was running around and back to her normal self and playing with her toys.

Simon said she reached out to Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson about the situation. CBC tried to contact Simpson  by phone for comment, but was unsuccessful.

The Hay River Health and Social Services Authority said in an email that it was "unable to comment on specific clients or patients in order to ensure we protect the privacy of those who receive care, this is a priority and a legislative requirement."

"High quality patient care and safety is a top priority," wrote Hay River Health Authority spokesperson Emily Chambers.

Chambers added that the health authority has a Quality and Risk team to handle complaints about service.

Residents with complaints and concerns can bring them to the quality and risk division at or (867) 874-8150.


Avery Zingel


Avery Zingel is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She is a graduate of the Carleton University School of Journalism and Political Science. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @averyzingel.