Alberta health authority responds to lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in newborn's death

Pearl Gambler, centre, has filed a $1.3 million lawsuit with Covenant Health named as a defendant.  (Audrey Neveau/CBC - image credit)
Pearl Gambler, centre, has filed a $1.3 million lawsuit with Covenant Health named as a defendant. (Audrey Neveau/CBC - image credit)

An Alberta health authority is asking the courts dismiss a lawsuit claiming it mistreated a Cree woman while she was giving birth at an Edmonton hospital.

Pearl Gambler of Bigstone Cree Nation alleged last month that in June 2020 she did not receive adequate medical care at the Misericordia Community Hospital because she is Indigenous. She also alleges that she was left to deliver her baby alone and that a hospital staff member referred to her dead daughter as a "specimen."

A statement of defence by Covenant Health, filed on Dec. 20 and obtained by CBC News, states that Gambler received "compassionate hospital and nursing care" throughout her time at the hospital.

$1.3M lawsuit

Gambler filed the lawsuit with the Court of King's Bench in Edmonton in June 2022. It was subsequently amended in October and claims $1.3 million in damages.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The statement of claim alleged that when Gambler arrived at the hospital's obstetrical unit, a staff person, seeing Gambler with her hair in braids and wearing a shirt that said "Strong. Resilient. Indigenous" told her that "there is nothing for you here."

It alleges that, after Gambler was left alone for a lengthy period of time, a nurse came in and watched her give birth but did not offer help despite Gambler's pleas.

The lawsuit alleged that there are medical records showing that the baby was born alive. It alleges the newborn was not provided with medical care and later died.

It also alleges that a staff member asked Gambler if she wanted to take her "specimen," referring to her dead daughter, home.

Covenant defence

The statement of defence said that Gambler was admitted to the hospital, "spontaneously delivered a 19-week-old non-viable fetus" and had the placenta surgically removed.

"Covenant Health denies Ms. Gambler was turned away from the labour and delivery unit or was provided inadequate care during her admission because of her race or any other discriminatory reason," the filing reads.

Covenant Health, in its statement of defence, said that Gambler was monitored by nursing staff "on an hourly basis."

The health authority said that Gambler was transferred into a private single room, or compassionate room, "in anticipation of a potential fetal demise delivery" and delivered her baby, Sakihitowin, while being provided with "one-to-one nursing care and with the assistance of additional members of the nursing staff."

The statement of defence states that Sakihitowin was cared for by nursing staff "until her passing and was dressed and cleaned in accordance with the Fetal Demise Policy."

In the filing, Covenant Health said that Gambler was given medication after she did not deliver her placenta spontaneously and was sent to the operating room four and a half hours later to have it surgically removed.

It further said that spiritual care was provided to Gambler and burial arrangements were discussed.

Covenant Health is asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed.

A doctor is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit but has not yet filed a statement of defence.