Indigenous woman who delivered stillborn baby turned away from B.C. hospital: uncle

·3 min read

KITIMAT, B.C. — The uncle of an Indigenous woman who gave birth to a stillborn baby after allegedly being turned away from a hospital in British Columbia says she is traumatized by the experience of racism.

Dustin Gaucher said his 21-year-old niece, who does not wish to be identified, was two weeks overdue when she started having contractions and went to a hospital in Kitimat.

He said staff checked the baby's heart rate and determined she did not need to be in hospital despite her concerns and desire to be kept at the facility, which has a maternity ward.

Her father then drove her and her partner to another hospital in Terrace, about a 45-minute drive away, Gaucher said Saturday.

The young woman's mother arrived to be by her side and both were concerned about the baby's well-being when they felt hospital staff were not acting fast enough, Gaucher said.

"It came to the point where my niece said, 'Save the baby. I don't care what happens to me. I want my baby to live.' "

Her mother began to loudly sing a First Nations song as both women became increasingly alarmed and were "pleading for help" before a doctor said the child had no heartbeat, Gaucher said.

His niece had lost her first baby two years ago after a miscarriage, he said, adding he believes the family was not offered counselling services after the stillbirth.

Part of what happened last Wednesday involving three health-care providers at Mills Memorial Hospital was recorded on a phone by the family, Gaucher said.

A lawyer has contacted them over his concerns about racism but no one from the local health authority has reached out, he said.

The Northern Health Authority did not immediately respond to a call requesting comment.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday that a review is underway to determine why the Indigenous woman was allegedly forced to go to a second hospital after she'd already been to one in her own community.

"This is obviously a terrible thing to experience and our hearts go out to the family," Dix said, adding Northern Health would include her relatives and both facilities in its review.

Dix said that while he can't speak specifically about the case due to privacy reasons, he expects those in the health-care system to provide culturally appropriate care to everyone.

"Allegations of racism are always taken extremely seriously," he said. "There is no place for racism in our health-care system and any discriminatory or racist behaviour is a violation of our principles, policies and values."

The B.C. government apologized last November after widespread anti-Indigenous racism in the health-care system was revealed in a report by the province's former representative for children and youth.

Dix acknowledged the report by Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond, saying some steps have been taken to make health care safer and more accessible, but noted "there is much, much, much more to do."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2021.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver

The Canadian Press