Yukon Party shuts down debate on inquiry

The Yukon government will not call for an inquiry into the death of Teresa Ann Scheunert at this time. The NDP brought forward a motion in the legislature this week.

The Yukon government will not call for an inquiry into the death of Teresa Ann Scheunert at this time.

The NDP brought forward a motion in the legislature this week urging the government to call an inquiry into the death of the 47-year-old nurse who died in the Watson Lake Hospital last year.

After explaining at length his reasons for not supporting an inquiry, Health Minister Doug Graham called for debate to be adjourned.

His proposal passed with the support of 11 Yukon Party MLAs.

All NDP members and the Liberal member for the Klondike voted against the adjournment.

For the past couple of weeks, the NDP has been asking the government to respond to questions surrounding Scheunert’s death.

She was admitted to the hospital for back pain related to a workplace injury, and died two weeks later.

The coroner found that Scheunert died from a toxic combination of painkillers administered to her at the hospital. The death was ruled accidental.

Scheunert’s sister and two daughters, who live in Alberta, were in the Yukon earlier this month to find answers and push for an inquiry into the death.

The family received a copy of the coroner’s report on June 14, 2013.

But less than five hours later, the chief coroner contacted them and said that there was in error in the report, and it would have to be retracted.

A second report was released on July 9, 2013, with substantial changes.

In a release to the media, chief coroner Kirsten Macdonald explained that the error had to do with medications prescribed in Scheunert’s name at the pharmacy in Watson Lake.

The first report suggested that Scheunert may have taken some of those drugs in addition to what had been administered through the hospital.

Additional evidence showed that this did not occur.

The second report was corrected to reflect that new information, according to the release.

But changes were made to the second report that are not related to whether or not Scheunert took medication in addition to what was recorded on her charts.

For example, the first report said her chart showed no administration of oxycodone after June 7, while the second indicated that records show she received a dose on June 17.

Neither the coroner nor the government has answered to this or other discrepancies to date.

Macdonald was not available for comment this week, but indicated that she may be available for an interview next week.

“It would appear from the facts that the system let down Ms. Scheunert,” according to both versions of the coroner’s report.

“When a member of the nursing staff dies of mixed drug toxicity in a rural hospital, it has a huge impact on the hospital staff and on the community members who rely on them,” said NDP MLA Jan Stick in her lengthy speech Wednesday. “The Official Opposition is calling for a public inquiry into Ms. Scheunert’s death because her family, her coworkers and the community she worked in deserve answers about how this death occurred and how it could have been prevented. The public deserves to know what happened and what can be done differently so no such death occurs again.”

Health Minister Graham said there are processes in place to deal with issues of patient safety and complaints against the hospital, some of which are currently underway.

If the family wants an inquiry, they could go through the courts and have a judge decide if it would be appropriate, he said.

“We have then a disassociated person outside of involvement in this area who would be in a position to assess many of the facts and to assess exactly the information provided by all parties instead of just one and, therefore, make an assessment about whether or not a medical inquest would be appropriate under the circumstances. That was the system that was followed during the Rusk inquiry. It’s a process that obviously works and I think it’s the process that should be followed if the family’s questions are not answered at the patient safety review.”

The family has been looking for a lawyer but has yet to find one willing to represent them, Scheunert’s daughter said at a recent press conference.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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