Indigenous

Coroner to probe death of 19-year-old First Nations man found near Thunder Bay hospital hours after discharge

Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner says it's investigating the death of a 19-year-old First Nations man a few hours after he was released from the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

Nishnawbe Aski Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler says 19-year-old was escorted by hospital security to secluded area

An aerial view of the hospital in Thunder Bay, Ont. A hospital spokesperson said in a statement that 'appropriate actions were taken and that the right decisions were made' in the care of a young man found dead half a kilometre away hours after being discharged. (Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre)

Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner says it's investigating the death of a 19-year-old First Nations man a few hours after he was released from the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

The 19-year-old was from a remote First Nation and his body was found less than a kilometre from the hospital in the early morning hours of Sept. 27. His suspected suicide has triggered concerns over the hospital's discharging practices. 

Chief Coroner of Ontario Dr. Dirk Huyer confirmed his office is investigating the death.

"When there are potential intersections of systems, there may be care-related issues, there could be policies or approaches that may potentially contribute to the death of anybody. Those are the types of things we look at."

The young man was admitted to the Thunder Bay hospital at about 8 p.m. on Sept. 26 and discharged about three hours later, according to a letter written by Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler to hospital CEO Jean Bartkowiuk. 

Nishnawbe Aski Nation represents 49 First Nations from northern Ontario. The copy of the letter obtained by CBC News had the name and home community of the 19-year-old redacted.

19 year-old taken to campus by hospital security, letter alleges

Fiddler's letter stated that the 19-year-old was in distress when he was admitted to the hospital by ambulance. The letter does not state exactly why the young man was sent to the hospital. 

He was found dead at 4 a.m. on Sept. 27 in a secluded area of the nearby Lakehead University campus by a security guard, said the letter. 

After the young man had been released from hospital he had been escorted by hospital security to Lakehead University's shipping and receiving area "approximately one-half kilometre from the entrance of the hospital," said Fiddler's letter.

"We are writing to you on a preliminary basis to find out why the hospital would escort a young man who presented at the hospital in obvious distress to a secluded area of the [Lakehead University] campus," said Fiddler's letter.

"Further alarming is that we have been advised that this is common practice by hospital security."

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said the death needs a thorough review. (CBC)

The letter said discharged patients are walked from the hospital to the nearby campus grounds so often that university security guards routinely carry taxi vouchers to give away.

"Surely, the hospital has procedures to support people in crisis... And surely this does not include walking them onto a university campus and leaving them alone to fend for themselves," said Fiddler in the letter.

"This practice is unconscionable."

Hospital says review of care raised no issues

Tracie Smith, senior director of communications for the hospital, said in an emailed statement that Bartkowiuk had responded to Fiddler's letter. Smith's statement said the hospital's quality of care review team had looked into the incident.

"The... team concluded that appropriate actions were taken and that the right decisions were made by clinical staff based on the information provided to them and the patient's presentation," said the statement. 

"The participants maintain full confidence in the judgment and professionalism of those involved."

The statement said the hospital would review its "current processes and procedures" and "identify improvements to prevent future incidents."

Chief Coroner for Ontario Dr. Dirk Huyer says his office is investigating the case. (Galit Rodan/Canadian Press)

Fiddler said in an interview he was disappointed by the hospital's response. 

He questioned why hospital security guards would escort someone toward the campus, which is in a wooded area, when there is a bus stop on a brightly lit, wide road near the hospital entrance. 

"The response we received from the hospital is not acceptable," Fiddler told CBC News. 

"I know when it comes to systemic racism and the institutions that operate here, we know that there is racism in the hospital as well."

Police assisting coroner's investigation

Fiddler said he would be consulting with the young man's home community and family on next steps. He said he is also in touch with the coroner's office and would like to see the Thunder Bay police thoroughly investigate the death.

"I think what's needed is a proper review of the facts and circumstances that led to his death," he said.  

Fiddler said in the letter "that police were not notified for some time" after the 19-year-old was found by the university security guard.

Lakehead University has not responded to requests for comment. 

Thunder Bay police spokesperson Scott Paradis said in an emailed statement that officers were dispatched to the university campus at 8:10 a.m. 

The Thunder Bay police's major crime unit is assisting the coroner's investigation, he said.

"The investigation into the death remains open and ongoing," said Paradis.

About the Author

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.