Saskatoon

Sask. Health Authority paid Samwel Uko family $81K in damages: court filing

A coroner's inquest into 20-year-old Samwel Uko's 2020 death is tentatively scheduled for this September. Uko's body was found in Wascana Lake on the same day he sought care at a Regina hospital.

A coroner's inquest into Uko's death is tentatively scheduled for September

Samwel Uko was 20 when he died. (Remembering Samwel Uko/Facebook)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says in a legal document that it failed to provide follow-up care and paid $81,000 in damages to the family of Samwel Uko, the young football player who was found dead shortly after being turned away from a Regina emergency room. 

The 20-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., was in Regina visiting an aunt and died on May 21, 2020. His body was found in Wascana Lake. 

Earlier that day, Uko had sought help twice at Regina General Hospital while struggling with mental health issues. A security video from Uko's second hospital visit showed him being forcibly removed while shouting, "No, I have mental issues."

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) apologized to the family in July 2020, saying it "failed to provide [Uko] the timely assistance he needed." The family then launched a civil suit against the SHA.  

According to a statement of defence filed on behalf of the health authority in March, "the SHA admits that it failed to meet the standard of care as it failed to provide the necessary follow-up care and assessment that was required."

Uko's uncle, Justin Paul Nyee, said the family remains devastated.

"It's really an emotional roller-coaster for his mother," Nyee said. "It's really hit her hard. She's still suffering and still crying."

The SHA's statement of defence says discrimination did not play a hand in the hospital's treatment of Uko. 

"There was difficulty in determining Mr. Uko's identity and that, in turn, caused or contributed to the failure of the SHA to provide access to Mr. Uko to obtain the additional care and assessment that he may have required."

Uko was originally from what is now South Sudan. He came to Canada with his family as a refugee in 2005. He played for a season with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon before his move to B.C.

Uko recorded a video of himself saying he needed help while he was inside the hospital. 

Samwel Uko is seen in this Snapchat video asking for help

1 year ago
0:19
Samwel Uko was found dead in Wascana Lake. His family says he died after seeking help. Uko posted this video to Snapchat. 0:19

'Rejection by the medical staff'

The SHA's court filing states that, after Uko's death, health authority officials approached Uko's family and, after some discussion, paid them $81,357 under Saskatchewan's Fatal Accidents Act. The section of the act the payments were made under covers areas such as funeral expenses and grief counselling. 

Uko's family is suing the SHA for general or special damages, as well as punitive or exemplary damages. 

"Samwel was urged to go back to the emergency room if he felt worse," according to the statement of claim filed on behalf of the family by The Merchant Law Group. 

"However, when he did feel worse and had the police take him to the emergency room, he was not given the proper care he needed. Instead he was escorted out of the building by security. The fact the Samwel was escorted [to the hospital] by police on the second occasion emphasized his mental deterioration from earlier that day. This rejection by the medical staff might have been the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back."

The SHA has asked the Court of Queen's Bench to dismiss the claim, arguing that some of the damages being sought are not actually pursuable under current laws.

'He denied having any suicidal ideations'

The SHA's statement of defence also offers the health authority's fullest account yet of what happened on the day Uko died.

The health authority said Uko first went to the emergency room at Regina General Hospital on the morning of May 21, 2020. Uko's family has said he was acting paranoid and hearing voices before visiting the hospital.

Uko was released later that morning after being seen by health-care staff and after a follow-up referral had been arranged for him at a mental health clinic.

"He denied having any suicidal ideations at this time," according to the statement of defence. "Mr. Uko spoke with the mental health clinic following his release from the [hospital] and again denied having any suicidal ideations."

At around 5:45 p.m. CST, Regina police officers brought Uko back to the emergency room.

Around 45 minutes later, Uko was escorted out of the hospital by security.

Video shows Samwel Uko being removed from Regina General Hospital

1 year ago
0:31
Samwel Uko sought help twice on the day of his death. Uko was removed by security from the Regina General Hospital. 0:31

"Mr. Uko was not attended to by any health-care professionals during his visit [in] the evening," the statement of defence says. "Thereafter the SHA learned that Mr. Uko died as a result of an apparent suicide [that] evening."

Scott Livingstone, the health authority's CEO, has previously said the SHA spent too much time trying to obtain Uko's identity and "not enough time focusing on his care needs."

Records previously released to CBC News indicate a security officer consulted a triage nurse and was told Uko had to be moved. The documents say the security staff understood this to mean he had to be removed.

When four security guards told him he had to leave, Uko said, "Leave me alone." The guards then dragged him to the door.

The circumstances of Uko's death will be probed during a coroner's inquest tentatively set to take place in Regina beginning Sept. 20. 


If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, help is available. For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911. You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 by calling 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645, or chatting online.

You can contact the Regina mobile crisis services suicide line at 306-525-5333 or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.

You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.

Kids Help Phone can also be reached at 1-800-668-6868, or you can access live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

with files from Omayra Issa and Heidi Atter

now