'It's difficult to understand': Hospital staff testify at Samwel Uko inquest

·5 min read
A memorial for Samwel Uko at Wascana Lake remains in place during the coroner's inquest into his death, which happened in May 2020. (Kevin O'Connor/CBC News - image credit)
A memorial for Samwel Uko at Wascana Lake remains in place during the coroner's inquest into his death, which happened in May 2020. (Kevin O'Connor/CBC News - image credit)

The coroner's inquest into Samwel Uko's death was in its fourth day Thursday and while witnesses say some things have changed at Regina General Hospital since his death, there is still work to be done.

Uko, a 20-year-old football player from Abbotsford, B.C., drowned at Wascana Lake on May 21, 2020 while in Regina visiting his aunt. His family said his death was a suicide.

He sought help at the hospital for mental health issues twice on the day he died. Uko's second visit ended in him being forcibly removed by hospital staff.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says communication issues and lack of clarity around Uko's registration information lead to him being removed from the emergency room. His body was found in Wascana Lake an hour later.

Thursday's first witness was Bill Parrell, the manager in charge of security at Regina General Hospital.

He said "a few things went wrong" during Uko's hospital visits on the day he died.

"The process of admitting there … my understanding is there's an unidentified patient process. That wasn't used," Parrell said. "I think making matters more complicated was the COVID situation at that time too … there were lots of unknowns."

A security guard testified Wednesday that guards at the hospital were asked to remove people who did not need to be there. This was done to maintain physical distancing between patients.

"It's unfortunate it happened here … it's difficult to understand," Parrell said.

Since Uko's death, changes have been made in terms of removing people from the hospital. Parrell said security will not remove anyone until they are seen by a doctor first.

He said security relies on medical staff to determine whether someone needs medical attention before removal.

Parrell said it would be helpful if hospital staff gave a clearer recommendation on where to remove a person. The triage nurse on duty the day Uko died testified Wednesday she told security to take Uko "anywhere but here."

Parrell said security guards took that to mean outside the hospital.

Omayra Issa/CBC
Omayra Issa/CBC

The second witness at Thursday's proceedings was Lolita Vansteelandt, the manager of registration and information services at Regina General Hospital.

She confirmed that the registration clerk on duty, Ronda Schmalenberg, made a mistake when she registered Uko. Schmalenberg said Uko's B.C. driver's licence confused her, causing her to register him with the surname Daudau, which is his middle name.

Vansteelandt said this mistake contributed to confusion at registration when Uko visited the hospital the second time that day.

She said following the incident, she showed Schmalenberg what she should have done when registering him. Vansteelandt said she reminded the registration clerks working that day that they could have used the unidentified patient process for cases like Uko.

As Vansteelandt was testifiying, Uko's mother, Joice Guya Issa Bankando, began saying: "That's my son. That's my son. You're kicking him out." She then left the inquest room.

Remembering Samwel Uko/Facebook
Remembering Samwel Uko/Facebook

Vansteelandt was asked why registration had not gone to the triage nurse to help Uko when he said he was hearing voices.

"We normally don't go over to triage and discuss things unless there's an emergency," she responded.

Uko's uncle, Justin Nyee, asked Vansteelandt if, in the future, the registration team could notify triage when someone says they are having mental health issues or says they're hearing voices.

She responded: "We're not clinicians, we're registration staff … But that's a recommendation that can absolutely go forward."

The third witness at Thursday's proceedings was Desiree Nahachewsky, the director of the emergency department at both Regina General Hospital and Pasqua Hospital.

She said there are new policies in place, such as no one being removed from the area until they have seen a doctor. This applies to everybody, without exception.

Nahachewsky said there is now additional support for triage nurses, with two operating the desk 24/7. She said three nurses could be better during peak hours.

She said there is now a psychiatric nurse present in the ER team who can help triage nurses if someone needs or requests mental health help. This nurse is only available between 7:30 a.m. and 11 p.m. and Nahachewsky stated it would be better if the nurse was available 24/7.

She also said Regina Police Service cannot leave a patient in the emergency room without speaking to a health-care provider first.

Nahachewsky said she would like to see more mental health knowledge embedded in hospital staff.

Both Parrell and Nahachewsky said inclusivity training would be beneficial to hospital staff. Parrell added in his testimony there are plans for such training among security guards, but does not know when these plans will take place.

Wait-lists need to be addressed, says psychologist

The fourth witness was Bruce McKee, a trained psychologist who is on the board of both the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Mental Health Association

He said many people visit the emergency room with mental health concerns but only 20 per cent are admitted.

McKee said people who show up with these issues at the ER are typically agitated. He said there are long-standing issues with how people with mental health issues are treated in emergency rooms.

"This is not an unrecognized issue," he said.

McKee would like to see serious effort put into reducing wait-lists because many people who show up at the ER with mental health issues have to wait several months to see a psychiatrist.

If you or someone you know is struggling, here's where to get help:

This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you're worried about.

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