The coroner in charge of an upcoming inquest says he is now in a position to speak with the concerned families.
Norm Leibel says he officially signed paperwork this week that makes him a Yukon coroner.
“While my appointment had gone through the legislation folks recently, I only signed the documents here this morning,” he said Monday afternoon.
“Until I signed those documents I wasn’t a coroner for the Yukon. That had to be done before I could act in any sort of capacity as a coroner.”
Liebel was responding to concerns raised by the family of Teresa Scheunert, one of two women who died after receiving care at the Watson Lake Hospital.
An inquest into Scheunert’s death and the death of Mary Johnny is scheduled to last for two weeks in early June.
Scheunert’s family spoke publicly earlier this week, saying they felt in the dark when it came to how they were going to represent their family 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,” Scheunert’s daughter Crystal Thomas told the News. “Or if we can call witnesses, what witness we can call – we don’t have a clue about anything.”
Leibel said he would be reaching out to the family in the next few days.
He said it’s important to speak with the family and “cover off what are their concerns, what are their issues, what is it they want to see come out of the inquest.
“The last thing I want to have happen is that at the end of an inquest the family or some other interested party coming forward saying we didn’t ask the relevant questions,” he said.
Scheunert, 47, died June 21, 2012 and Johnny, 60, died on Aug. 9, 2012.
Leibel, a retired B.C. coroner, was appointed earlier this month by the territory’s chief coroner, Kirsten Macdonald, to preside over the inquest.
As head of the inquest, Leibel said he will be looking at the evidence, deciding what else needs to be collected and developing a witness list.
He said he understands the family’s frustration.
“One of the important issues is for me to understand that the family is anxiously awaiting the start and that’s not an easy thing to do. It’s been an awfully long time since the deaths occurred and we’re finally going to be getting to inquest come June. So that’s an awfully long time and I understand that.”
The coroner said he will be looking at all the evidence Macdonald collected during her original investigation. But he insists that doesn’t mean the inquest will come to the same conclusions.
“One thing I want to make clear is that the investigations she conducted and the reports that she issued will not form part of my inquest in so far as determining what are the details,” he said.
“When the inquest starts it will be the responsibility of myself as the presiding coroner and the jury to make all of the findings.”
After Scheunert’s death, Macdonald’s initial report 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.
The inquest itself was originally scheduled for March but was pushed back to give everyone more time. At the time, Macdonald said lawyers for the hospital corporation and the two doctors involved have applied for standing at the inquest. This means, like the families, they would have access to any documents and the ability to ask questions during the inquest.
Now that he has taken over, it will be up to Leibel to decide if they qualify for standing.
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