B.C. health authority denies lawsuit claim that racism played a part in baby's death

·3 min read

TERRACE, B.C. — Health officials in northern British Columbia deny allegations they mismanaged the treatment of a pregnant Indigenous woman or used racial stereotypes that affected her care and led to the stillbirth of her daughter.

Northern Health, Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace and Kitimat General Hospital dispute allegations in a civil lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court last month by Sarah Morrison and her partner Ronald Luft, alleging negligence and "deliberate racial indifference."

In its response, the health authority says Morrison was past her due date and in the early stages of labour when she arrived at Kitimat's hospital, which the health authority says is not equipped to handle complicated deliveries.

The statement says Luft "began yelling," alleged Morrison was being refused service and then left the hospital with her when a doctor said an assessment was needed to see if the delivery could be done in Terrace.

The couple arrived at the Terrace hospital later that night but doctors could not find a heartbeat, the infant girl was stillborn and the statement of defence says nothing medical staff at either hospital "did or failed to do caused or contributed to the fetal demise."

None of the allegations or statements have been proven in court and statements from five doctors named in the lawsuit have not yet been filed.

Morrison's suit alleges her care at both hospitals was affected by racial stereotypes included in her medical records that noted she was in an abusive relationship, her parents were alcoholics and she was depressed.

Those details were part of a standard prenatal record completed by maternity patients, says the statement of defence.

The information was not collected at either hospital, it says, and all history gathered at Mills Memorial and Kitimat General was in line with professional requirements for care.

"Further, the health authority defendants say that at all material times, they and their employees acted appropriately, in accordance with standard practice and without racial stereotyping in their interactions and treatment of the plaintiffs."

Morrison and Luft are suing for general and special damages, alleging the health authority, its two hospitals, one nurse and five doctors failed in numerous ways, including to adequately diagnose and treat the mother, assess the risks to the baby and to avoid using racial stereotypes in making recommendations for care.

Northern Health and the two hospitals are seeking a dismissal of all the claims and costs of the legal action.

A provincial government review of the case is continuing after it was ordered at the end of January when the allegations were made.

A statement issued last month by the Northern Health board said it endorses the review of racism allegations regarding health care at its hospitals.

The review will seek guidance from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s former representative for children and youth, who wrote a report about anti-Indigenous racism in the province's health-care system.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2021.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version transposed the Kitimat and Terrace hospitals.