A man from a First Nation in southern Alberta has filed a human rights complaint against the provincial health agency and a local hospital, alleging anti-Indigenous discrimination led to the death of his wife.
The complaint filed by Benedict Crow Chief of Siksika Nation says his wife, Myra Crow Chief, died in April 2022, because staff and doctors at the Strathmore District Health Services hospital failed to disclose to them that she had active abdominal bleeding.
The complaint alleges doctors knew about her condition but she was not given medication to manage her pain and was ignored by nurses.
Crow Chief wiped away tears Thursday as he described the ordeal at a news conference on the First Nation 100 kilometres east of Calgary.
“Clearly my late wife’s condition was urgent. Her death was preventable. Why are our hospitals taking in patients when they’re just going to discharge us without proper care and attention?” he said as he grabbed a tissue.
“Would we be treated differently if we were not Indigenous? I feel the answer is yes.”
Crow Chief said his wife’s last few days were filled with pain and fear.
“To this day I hear her screaming out my name,” Crow Chief said.
“It really hurts. I wish no one else would have to go through what we went through. I hope no one else experiences what my wife’s last days were like.”
Alberta Health Services said in a statement Thursday that it is “undertaking a full quality assurance review of the care provided, as well as examining the followup communication provided to the family.”
“While we cannot comment on this specific case as it is before the Alberta Human Rights Commission, AHS will continue to meet with Siksika Nation to discuss their concerns,” the statement said.
“We are committed to working with them for the benefit and health care of all people.”
The Alberta Human Rights Commission complaint says Myra Crow Chief, 49, died at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary on April 21, 2022, days after being released from the Strathmore hospital.
Two months before her death, the woman, who also had chronic kidney disease, was at Foothills hospital due to bloody stool caused by gastrointestinal bleeding.
“While medical staff found no active bleeding at that time, Myra was advised to return to the hospital if she experienced new bleeding or was otherwise concerned,” the complaint says.
It also says that the couple was reluctant to go to their local hospital when the wife woke up early on April 17, 2022, with a coughing fit that led to sudden, intense pain in her abdomen.
However, paramedics refused to take her to Foothills and sent her instead to the Strathmore hospital.
“Strathmore hospital is notorious within the Siksika community as a locus of systemic, anti-Indigenous discrimination,” the complaint reads.
“Many Siksika members are reluctant to visit the hospital notwithstanding its proximity to the reserve. Many members choose to travel the additional distance to Calgary, even in circumstances of acute medical need, rather than risk receiving discriminatory treatment at Strathmore.”
Her husband says in the complaint that he could not accompany her in the ambulance and in the hospital because no one else could look after the four young children in their care.
The complaint says a CT scan was done on Myra Crow Chief at Calgary’s Peter Lougheed Centre before she was transported back to Strathmore hospital.
“For reasons that remain unclear, the doctor (at Strathmore hospital) did not inform Myra that the scan had revealed evidence an active abdominal bleed,” the human rights complaint alleges.
“Nor was Myra provided with a copy of the CT scan results or given any prescription for pain medication. Instead, the doctor told Myra that her pain could be dealt with at her next dialysis session, then scheduled for the next day.”
Her condition continued the deteriorate the next day, the document reads, so her husband decided to “borrow gas and parking money, arrange for a babysitter, and drive Myra directly to Foothills hospital.”
The complaint says that is where she died of hypovolemic shock, a condition where severe blood loss makes the heart unable to pump enough blood to the body. It alleges the likely secondary cause of death was a hematoma in her abdominal area.
Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot said at Thursday’s news conference that the band has been gathering information since early 2022 looking for problems its members have experienced with the health-care system.
He said Siksika members simply want equitable treatment.
“It’s not just a knee-jerk announcement. It was (Myra’s) passing that precipitated the human rights complaint,” said Crowfoot, who noted there have been dozens of band members coming forward.
“The issues that seem to be reoccurring is some of our nation members are considered frequent flyers or simply somebody looking to receive an opioid drug prescription or something of the like.”
Siksika Coun. Sam Crowfoot said there are many stories like that of Myra Crow Chief.
“What we’re trying to do here is highlight a widespread system failure by the Strathmore hospital in the larger AHS system,” he said.
“We are bringing added attention to a problem we know to be widespread in Canada.”
Crowfoot said he hopes the human rights complaint results in real change in the system.
“We’re not necessarily looking for a big lawsuit for financial gains from the province of Alberta,” he said.
“The complaint calls for specific remedies such as an equity audit to investigate the inequitable treatment of Indigenous people in the Strathmore hospital and changes to hiring and retention practices and workplace anti-racism and cultural sensitivity training.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 28, 2023.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press