Skip to main content

Stretchers are seen in the reflection of in an emergency room. Winnipeg’s health authority is investigating after two patients were sent home in taxis and died on their doorsteps in the dead of winter shortly after being discharged from hospital.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Winnipeg's health authority is investigating after two patients were sent home in taxis and died on their doorsteps in the dead of winter shortly after being discharged from hospital.

Arlene Wilgosh, CEO of the authority, said both patients were discharged from Grace Hospital and sent home in cabs within days of each other around the new year. Both died as temperatures dipped down below –20C before they made it inside their homes.

One man, 78-year-old David Silver, was found frozen on his doorstep about 14 hours after he had been sent home from hospital in the middle of the night. Relatives say an autopsy found his death was due to a heart condition.

The other patient was spotted on a sidewalk by a passing driver who called 911. The patient was dead – apparently from a pre-existing condition – when emergency officials arrived, Wilgosh said. That patient, who won't be named, had been in hospital for more than 24 hours and was discharged at 8:20 a.m., the authority said.

"We are also looking for answers here. We are concerned about what has transpired with these two cases," Wilgosh told a hastily convened news conference Friday. "We are looking to improve our processes so that we can continue to ensure the safety of our patients."

Health Minister Erin Selby immediately instructed all health authorities to ensure that patients sent home in cabs make it into their homes. Clearly there are gaps in hospital procedure that must be addressed, she said.

"I think it's clear that when a patient is discharged from a hospital and returned by taxi, that should include making sure that patient gets through the front door safely," Selby said.

The health authority already has a meeting scheduled with the taxicab board to discuss a change in protocol, Wilgosh said.

Almost a year ago, 68-year-old Heather Brenan was discharged from Seven Oaks Hospital and sent home in a taxi. She collapsed on her doorstep and was rushed back to hospital, where she died from a blood clot that had travelled to her lungs. An inquest has been called into her death.

At the time, Wilgosh said she asked for an audit to see if this was a systemic issue in Winnipeg hospitals.

"It was not," she said. "This does not happen frequently."

Although it appears exposure to the extreme cold was not the cause of death for either patient who died recently, Wilgosh said part of the review will examine whether the discharge policy should make allowances for Winnipeg's notoriously frigid weather between November and April.

Silver's nephew, Miles Pollock, said hospital procedure must take into account a patient's age, infirmity, the time of day and the weather. Medical professionals should also use some compassion, he added.

"The hospitals ought to take a little responsibility," said Pollock, who lives in Toronto. "It strikes me as strange that you'd want to rely on a taxi driver to make sure somebody gets into the house when it's not necessarily their responsibility."

The family is devastated by Silver's death and by the fact that his body was left in frigid temperatures for 14 hours before being found by his housekeeper, Pollock said. Still, he said they are hoping his death will bring about change.

"If my uncle has a legacy, maybe this is it," Pollock said. "And that would be a good legacy to have."