The Northern Health Authority has quietly beefed up security at Mills Memorial Hospital and Kitimat General Hospital in response to threats, intimidation and harassment of staff members and physicians following a stillbirth the end of January at Mills Memorial.
Ronald Luft and Sarah Morrison, parents of the baby girl, filed suit Feb. 10 against the two hospitals, doctors and one nurse alleging that proper care was not provided and adding racial stereotyping influenced treatment.
Prior to the filing, family members took to social media through statements and video, stating that racism played a role in the events which began Jan. 27 when the couple went to Kitimat General and which culminated with the stillbirth at Mills in the early morning hours of Jan. 28.
The social media posts on the part of family members sparked an immediate outpouring of criticism directed at the hospitals, staffers and physicians. Some of those who commented said they also experienced racism.
“Both Kitimat and Terrace hospitals have increased the presence of security (and security measures), recently,” said Eryn Collins from Northern Health.
The resulting threats, intimidation and harassment have been such that the front entrance to Mills, normally open between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., now requires a person to first press a buzzer to speak to a security guard.
An outside sign, directing a visitor to the buzzer, describes the guard as a “greeter” who then asks a series of questions before entry is either granted or refused.
Entrance to the hospital through the emergency room is also being controlled through a hospital staff member and a security guard although the security guard is not new. Mills has been posting a security guard in the emergency room area for several years now, particularly on weekends, in response to situations being faced by staff and physicians.
Security staff have also been added in Kitimat with access also controlled and visitors questioned as to their reason for wishing entry.
RCMP officers from both the Kitimat and Terrace detachments have increased patrols near the two facilities.
Northern Health has had cameras at its facilities for some years but has now bolstered its alarms and other security measures.
“We have a duty to protect our staff and ensure their safety. We appreciate the understanding of patients and the public with respect to increased security measures, and we continue to urge people to be respectful, patient, and to allow the quality of care review and legal processes to unfold as they should,” said Collins.
An open letter written by Northern Health Authority chair Colleen Nyce called the threats and harassment “highly unfair and inappropriate.”
“It is not acceptable for our hard working teams of staff and medical professions, who have dedicated their professional lives to caring for people in our communities day in and day out, to be harassed, threatened and to have their reputations viciously attacked,” she wrote.
Nyce said the events leading to the stillbirth are being reviewed.
“The Ministry of Health and Northern Health are committed to understanding the facts that led to this tragedy. If racism played a role in this event, it will be uncovered,” she said.
The review, however, is being conducted behind closed doors by two senior Northern Health officials and the stipulations as to how reviews are conducted are such that neither their findings nor resulting actions, if required, can ever be released for public consideration.
Reviews are not limited to matters of medicine and “may also include looking at any systemic practices which can include behaviour, policy, administrative issues, etc.,” said Collins.
BC Liberal Skeena MLA Ellis Ross has joined Nyce in calling for an end to threats and harassment.
“Even after all they are doing to protect our communities and keep our healthcare services from being overwhelmed, many have still been subject to attacks, either verbal or online from individuals within our communities wishing to express their personal dismay with the current situation,” Ross wrote in his most recent column published in The Northern Sentinel and The Terrace Standard.
“Regardless of what is happening around us, we cannot condone threats or intimidation to our frontline workers,” he said.
The stillbirth circumstances will not be examined by the provincial coroners service.
“Stillbirth is the loss of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy but before the baby is born. It is not a live birth therefore, no death is reportable to the coroners service,” indicated a provided statement from the coroners service.
The allegations contained in the Luft-Morrison suit have yet to be tested in court.