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Negligent health care on Manitoba First Nation led to death: lawsuit

Violet McKay holds a photo of her son, Tyson McKay, outside the Winnipeg courthouse on Aug. 3, 2016.

Steve Lambert/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The family of a Manitoba man who died last year filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the federal and Manitoba governments, alleging inadequate health care at the nursing station in Cross Lake, Man.

The family said the treatment given to Tyson McKay was not an isolated incident among remote indigenous communities across Canada.

"I want to help our people, the indigenous people across Canada and northern Manitoba," McKay's brother, Kelvin McKay, said outside the courthouse.

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"We depend on professionals to come and help us, not to cut our lives short."

Tyson McKay died in June 2015 at the age of 32. According to the family's lawsuit, he had gone to the Cross Lake nursing station complaining of chest pains. Instead of being seen by a doctor or taken to Thompson for more advanced health care, he was told by a nurse he was suffering from acid reflux and sent home with antacid medication, the lawsuit alleges.

He died at home 31 hours later, the family said.

"A simple EKG, blood work or even a medical transport could have saved his life," Kelvin McKay said.

The statement of claim contains allegations that have not been proven in court.

Health Canada responded in an email Wednesday that it takes the situation seriously but cannot discuss individual patients due to privacy reasons.

"Health Canada is committed to providing access to quality care in nursing stations and works continually to find ways to ensure quality services and to improve services when issues are identified. "

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The Manitoba Justice department said in a written statement that it was reviewing the statement of claim and "since this matter is currently before the courts, we are unable to provide further comment."

Cross Lake is 520 kilometres north of Winnipeg by air and has an on-reserve population of 4,200. Like many First Nation communities, there is no hospital. There is a nursing station with a doctor on site on weekdays during business hours. Nurses are also on hand and work without a doctor at other times.

The lawsuit alleges the federal and Manitoba governments, along with a company hired to help staff the nursing station, failed in their duty to provide proper health care on the reserve.

It also claims, more broadly, that the federal government failed in its duties to "require, implement or ensure affirmative health-care treatment for First Nations people who live on reserve, and whom the defendants Canada and Manitoba know have disproportionately poor health outcomes compared to the general population due to the substandard health-care services jointly provided by the defendants Canada and Manitoba."

On-reserve health-care services were criticized in an inquest report last year into the 2011 death of an infant in Gods Lake, Man.

Provincial court judge Don Slough wrote that an overloaded and outdated northern medical system failed Drianna Ross, who died of an infection two months after she was born.

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The judge found information was not passed on from a remote nursing station to a hospital in Thompson, ineffective drugs were given and the seriousness of her condition was not recognized.

"The co-operation between (health) agencies, in collaboration with First Nations communities, must expand in its scope, with the goal of ensuring that residents of some of Manitoba's most disadvantaged communities have access to the quality health care that is the right of all Canadians," Slough wrote in his report.

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