An Indigenous couple in northern British Columbia is suing a health authority, alleging their care was mismanaged before the death of their baby.
Sarah Morrison and Ronald Luft allege in a statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court this week that the Northern Health authority, several doctors, Kitimat General Hospital and Mills Memorial Hospital used racial stereotypes and failed to provide emergency care.
The allegations have not been proven in court and statements of defence haven’t been filed.
Northern Health said in a statement that it could not comment on the case for privacy reasons, but its board has endorsed a review of allegations of racism in health care at its hospitals.
“We do wish to express that the loss of a child is tragic and our hearts go out to the family.”
Its statement said the review will seek guidance from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s former representative for children and youth, who wrote a report about anti-Indigenous racism in the province’s health-care system.
One of the doctors named in the lawsuit declined to comment and the others could not be reached.
Kitimat General Hospital could not immediately be reached for comment and Mills Memorial said the health authority would respond on its behalf.
The lawsuit says Morrison was in labour but was told nothing could be done for her at the Kitimat hospital. The statement of claim says when the family was refused ambulance transport, her father drove the couple on the 45-minute trip to Mills Memorial in Terrace.
It was “obvious” upon arriving at the second hospital that the unborn baby was in distress, yet “no meaningful attempts” were made to save their daughter despite Morrison’s concerns and pleas to medical staff, the lawsuit alleges.
Morrison “begged” for a Caesarean section to save her baby, but a staff member allegedly told her “he did not see the point and it was not in her best interest for future pregnancies,” the lawsuit says.
While no information was collected from them, the statement of claim alleges that staff included racial stereotyping in Morrison’s medical records, such as that she was in an abusive relationship, her parents were alcoholics and that she was depressed.
The statement of claim alleges those inaccurate records influenced how medical staff treated her.
Coral-Lee Edith Cheryl Luft, weighing seven pounds eight ounces, was born Jan. 27, 2021.
“The baby was washed and wrapped in a blanket and given to Sarah. No attempts to resuscitate the baby were made,” the lawsuit alleges.
They are suing for general and special damages, alleging the defendants failed in numerous ways, including to adequately diagnose and treat the mother, assess the risks to the baby and to avoid using racial stereotypes in making recommendations for care.
The provincial government launched a review of the case at the end of January, after the allegations were first made.