The refrigeration unit parked outside of Mills Memorial Hospital on Jan. 13, 2021. (Jake Wray/ Terrace Standard)

The refrigeration unit parked outside of Mills Memorial Hospital on Jan. 13, 2021. (Jake Wray/ Terrace Standard)

Business deal gone bad results in ambulances transporting deceased people in Northwest

BC Coroners Service looking for new provider

A business partnership gone sour has resulted in provincial paramedics being used to transport deceased people in northwestern B.C. on behalf of the BC Coroners Service.

It’s expected to be a temporary measure until the coroners service negotiates a contract with someone else to transport deceased people from Prince Rupert to east of Burns Lake, a task that includes transport for autopsies outside of the region.

The former company owned by two partners from Smithers provided the transport service until the end of December when paramedics took over.

The coroners service confirmed this week that it began looking for a different transport provider in December and that negotiations are now underway with one that had been selected.

“(We) are hopeful to be able to resume normal services within days,” the service said in a provided statement.

Andrew Creyke and Christi-Anne Lafrance formed CAML-DAH DANESDIH, or CAML for short, in the fall of 2018. Creyke had worked for a Terrace resident who had the BC Coroners Service transport contract for some time. At that time, Lafrance was the coroner for the Smithers area.

CAML then secured contracts with the coroners service in early 2019, ultimately using four vehicles with employees in Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers.

In a series of affidavits filed in the Smithers Supreme Court registry last year, information indicates the pair began to differ on financial and operational measures of the business almost from the start of their partnership.

Text messages, included as part of the court filings, revealed a growing acrimonious relationship surrounding how the business was being run and how its finances were organized and disbursements made.

The affidavits concern Creyke’s request to the court to have the partnership dissolved. Lafrance counter-claimed, seeking monies from the partnership. The information from both parties has not been tested in a court hearing.

It was Creyke who continued to provide transport for the coroners service until Dec. 30.

Versions differ as to what occurred in December leading up to the coroners service looking for a new provider, leading to the gap in service now being filled by paramedics.

Speaking this week, Creyke said he was asked by a coroners service manager to submit a formal letter asking to end the two contracts CAML had with the service. Those two contracts were to have concluded in September 2022.

“The situation I am in is unmanageable,” Creyke wrote in the letter dated Dec. 8, 2020, a copy of which was provided to Black Press Media.

The coroners service did confirm it began looking for another provider on Dec. 11, a process that lasted until Dec. 27.

Creyke said he did bid, separate from Lafrance, during that period but was told, over the phone, that his bid was unsuccessful by $10 and that Lafrance was the successful bidder.

“And now there’s eight people out of work,” Creyke said of the CAML employees in Smithers, Terrace and Prince Rupert.

Emails provided to Black Press Media sent by Lafrance to employees of CAML also indicate she had been granted the contract.

“That is not the case,” the coroners service stated when asked for comment.

It declined to comment further other than to say that “all of our activities and decisions follow an established government procurement process.”

Another provided statement, this time from the BC Emergency Health Services Commission, which is responsible for the ambulance service, confirmed the role of paramedics in transporting deceased persons.

It said a request for transport by paramedics of deceased persons can come only from a coroner in cases of “sudden, unexpected deaths from unnatural causes.”

“Expected or palliative deaths, at home or in health care facilities, will continue to be dealt with by the facilities who are required to contact a funeral home to move the deceased,” the statement indicated.

“This is a temporary measure until a permanent option can be arranged. Any medical emergency calls in the community take precedent over requests for transport of the deceased.”

The lack of a contracted transport service explains, in part, the stationing by the Northern Health Authority of a refrigeration unit at Mills Memorial Hospitan in case the morgue at Mills becomes full pending transfers.

“There is a provincial working group established with all health authorities and the BC Coroners Service to actively monitor the capacity of mortuaries across the province and to ensure plans are in place for potential increases in demand for storage,” said the coroners service.

“As an additional measure, part of the plan for additional space includes the deployment of mobile morgue facilities at hospital sites.”

Eryn Collins from Northern Health confirmed the placement of the refrigeration unit to augment the hospital’s morgue was not specifically because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It doesn’t mean the morgue is at capacity, as stated, it’s to ensure we have capacity/additional capacity – as or if needed,” said Collins. “Not directly COVID-related in that there have not been a significant number of COVID-related deaths in the Northwest.”

Black Press Media has also reached out to Christi-Anne Lafrance for comment.