Scheunert family in the dark as inquest nears

An inquest into the deaths of two women at the Watson Lake Hospital is scheduled to begin in about two months. But the family of one of those women says they haven’t heard a word from the coroner.

An inquest into the deaths of two women at the Watson Lake Hospital is scheduled to begin in about two months.

But the family of one of those women says they haven’t heard a word from the coroner overseeing the case since he was appointed earlier this month.

The family of Teresa Scheunert is again raising concerns about the balance and fairness of the inquest that is scheduled for early June.

Scheunert’s daughter, Crystal Thomas, said the family thinks pre-inquest meetings are happening in Whitehorse this week.

Retired B.C. coroner Norm Leibel was appointed earlier this month to preside over the inquest into the deaths of both Scheunert and Mary Johnny. He was chosen by Yukon chief coroner Kirsten Macdonald.

Scheunert, 47, died June 21, 2012 and Johnny, 60, died less than two months later on Aug. 9.

Thomas said there are basic questions that need answering, so the family can participate at the inquest.

“We know absolutely nothing. There’s plenty of questions we have, even just down to whether we need to be down there for the full two weeks. It’s a huge financial burden for us to be there,” she said on the phone from Ponoka, Alberta. “Or if we can call witnesses, what witness we can call – we don’t have a clue about anything.”

But since Leibel was appointed, they have heard nothing, Thomas told the News today.

“Kirsten, because she’s stepping down, she doesn’t want to seem like she’s interfering. So I think she would appreciate if all our questions were directed elsewhere, but we have no one else to call.”

Thomas said Macdonald forwarded her family’s contact information to the new coroner on March 11.

Calls to the coroner’s office were not returned in time for today’s deadline.

“We don’t know if Norm is in the Yukon right now, we don’t know if they’ve started pre-inquest meetings without us, we don’t know if they’ve been postponed, we’re in the dark completely,” Thomas said.

NDP heath critic Jan Stick said someone should be reaching out to the families.

“To start off, I think the coroner should be contacting the families and asking them what their needs are and how they want to participate in the inquest into their family member’s death.”

Financially, family members are also at a disadvantage, Scheunert’s family said in a statement.

“Where other participants in the inquest are paid for their time to be there, families face the total costs of time from work, loss of income, childcare, travel and accommodation for an extended period of time being no less than two weeks this June.”

Stick said it would be worthwhile to look into changing the current legislation so that a family’s costs are also covered during an inquest.

“I think that’s something that needs to be looked at. Our legislation is pretty thin. I don’t think they’re asking for the moon.”

After Scheunert’s death, Macdonald ruled the registered nurse died of mixed drug toxicity.

That was contradicted by a later patient safety review, ordered by the hospital corporation, which said it was an irregular heartbeat that killed her.

Johnny died of a bowel obstruction after being originally diagnosed as having alcohol withdrawal.

Thomas said the family will continue to do the best it can.

“We need help, just to know what we need to do properly for the inquest. We’re trying to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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