Racism alleged after woman in labour turned away from Kitimat, B.C. emergency room
VANCOUVER -- A northern B.C. family expecting to celebrate the birth of a child is grieving instead, as they demand answers for why a woman in labour was allegedly turned away from Kitimat General Hospital and told to travel 65 kilometres to Terrace, where she ultimately delivered a stillborn baby.
With her first child due almost two weeks ago, 21-year-old Sarah Morrison was anxious when she went into labour early Thursday morning, quickly making her way to Kitimat General Hospital.
“They checked in on the baby. They said the baby had a strong heartbeat,” Morrison’s uncle, Dustin Gaucher, told CTV News Vancouver. “For whatever reason, they said they can’t deliver the baby in Kitimat. That’s where my questions come in. Why not, if there’s an open maternity ward?”
According to Northern Health, Kitimat General Hospital does offer maternity services and delivers babies, including by C-section.
It says in some higher risk cases, a patient could be referred to another facility.
“Ideally, that is something planned in advance as part of care-planning with the patient, but in some circumstances, more emergent transfer may be required,” the health authority said in a statement. “And, if a decision is made that a referral is needed, based on the clinical assessment of the patient needs and the level of care that can be provided at the facility – ambulance transport is offered.”
But Morrison’s family said she had to call her own ambulance – and after paramedics picked her up in front of the hospital in Kitimat, they tried to take her directly back to the emergency room she’d just left.
That’s when her father stepped in and drove her 65 kilometres to Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, where the stillbirth occurred.
"I wanted to celebrate a birth of a grandchild. This is traumatic for me. This is traumatic for my family,” said Gaucher.
He accuses Kitimat emergency room staff of racial insensitivity and believes Morrison was told to go to the hospital in Terrace because she’s Indigenous.
It’s a possibility B.C.’s Health Minister does not deny.
“There is no place for racism in our system and any discriminatory or racist behaviour is a violation of our principles, policies and values,” Adrian Dix said Friday.
"We acknowledge that systemic anti-Indigenous racism exists in B.C., and while some steps have been taken to make health care safe and accessible, there is much, much more to do.”
He added that Northern Health had already begun a review and would work with the family to determine exactly what caused the chain of events that ended with the devastating loss of life.
In the meantime, Morrison’s family is left wondering if the baby would be alive if doctors in Kitimat had attempted to deliver it.
“It’s world-shattering. In our culture, our elders come back as our children,” Gaucher said. “They come to heal us, they come to be with us and give us what we need. Now, my niece was robbed of that. My whole family was robbed of that.”