Ojibway chief upset over how First Nations teenager with ‘serious’ injury was treated in Kenora, Ont., hospital emergency room


WARNING: This story contains references to self-harm.

A hospital in Kenora, Ont., is investigating after the chief of the Ojibways of Onigaming said a 13-year-old boy from his First Nation was left in the emergency room without immediate treatment for a “massive” injury, and that a nurse had told him to bandage himself.

Jeff Copenace said he was called by the family to come to the Lake of the Woods District Hospital (LWDH) on April 25 to defend the teenager. He said she had tried to harm herself and had already been waiting in the ER for over 30 minutes when he arrived. When he approached the office for help, he said, a nurse handed him gauze and duct tape.

“I was shocked that [the girl] sat there with an open wound and not even like a social worker was talking to her, anyone rushing to her aid,” Copenace told CBC News, adding that the girl is fine now and at home.

“We are a First Nation that remains under a state of emergency for suicides and mental illness. The district hospital is well aware of this.”

CBC News was unable to independently verify exactly what happened at the hospital.

LWDH President Ray Racette said they began investigating after seeing Copenace’s tweet, which came on the same day as the incident, adding that they hoped to speak with the leader.

The incident comes amid a national conversation — spurred by the 2020 death of Atikamekw mother Joyce Echaquan — about the impacts of systemic racism against Indigenous peoples in the healthcare system, as well as hospital staffing shortages in across Canada.

It also came just months after a First Nations family said a 32-year-old man died of a cerebral hemorrhage hours after he was released from the same hospital on headache pills.

The injury was “alarming”, says the chief

Copenace said he immediately drove 116 kilometers north to Kenora Hospital after the girl’s family called him, saying she had harmed herself.

The girl and her uncle were in the emergency room with a deep, open cut on her arm, he said.

“It was a massive wound. It was cut right through the skin…and it was really alarming,” Copenace said.

He said that after asking the ER if they were planning to bandage his wounds, the nurse told him: ”I’m not going to bandage a wound that happened last night and it’s not bleeding anymore” .

Jeff Copenace, Chief of the Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation, pictured in this photo with an “Every Child Matters” flag, says he is concerned about how forms of racism affect Indigenous peoples’ health care. (Submitted by Jeff Copenace)

“I was freaked out,” Copenace said. “I asked [the nurse], ‘You know she’s 13? Do you know she self-harmed?'”

At that point, he said, a second nurse gave him gauze and medical tape and told him to bandage his wound. It wasn’t until he asked for a supervisor that the girl’s cut was taken seriously, Copenace said, and then closed with stitches.

When the supervisor came out to tell her about the incident and the hospital’s response, Copenace said she told him there had been no experiences of racism at Lake of the Woods Hospital. over the 20 years she worked there.

“If it was a young white child, the whole hospital would have rushed to her,” says the chief of the Treaty 3 First Nation. “They would never have left a young white child with a wound. open requiring eight stitches.”

Copenace reiterated its concerns about how systemic and direct racism affects the health care of Indigenous peoples. These concerns – which have been documented for decades in government reports, inquiries and royal commissions – include disproportionately longer wait times, downplaying of concerns, inadequate or non-existent pain management, medical errors and a lack of respect for cultural protocols.

He also highlighted concerns about youth suicide in Indigenous communities. According to Statistics Canada, the suicide rate among Aboriginal people is three times higher than the national average — among young Aboriginal people, the disparity is even greater.

“The treatment we receive from non-Indigenous medical professionals, police officers, government officials, taxi drivers, the systemic racism we face is what is causing this self-harm and it needs to stop.”

The link between systemic racism and poor mental health outcomes, including higher rates of suicidal ideation and self-harm, is well established in academic research and government reports, including the most recent 2020 “In Plain Sight” Report on Indigenous-Specific Racism in British Columbia and a 2021 report on 45 mostly Indigenous boys died by suicide or homicide in Manitoba.

Copenace said his priority last week was to make sure the girl had the right support, and he is now preparing to file a complaint with the hospital.

Tweets urge hospital to open investigation

Racette, president of the Kenora Hospital, said initial findings from the investigation show that upon arrival at the emergency room, the patient was triaged, which is the assessment process hospitals use to determine what cases need to be seen urgently. Based on this assessment, the patient’s wound was treated within an hour and then discharged within 5.5 hours.

“Our staff assess patients based on their needs and do their best for them,” Racette said. “There are different things that needed to happen in the care process… the emergency team, they work as a team and they have a lot of patients to see.”

Ray Racette, president and CEO of Lake of the Woods District Hospital, said they were investigating the care of the 13-year-old after Copenace tweeted about it. (Logan Turner/CBC)

“We are understaffed. We have a vacancy rate of 40% in the staff [the emergency department], which in itself is very difficult for the staff who are just trying to do the best they can. But it’s going to have an impact on wait times.”

Racette said hospital officials’ understanding of what happened in the ER is different from what the chief posted on social media, adding that they called the band office and sent a e-mail to the executive assistant of Copenace to try to meet him.

“We would really like to meet him because we respect him and we want to have an exchange with him,” Racette said, adding that social media can be “a very brutal instrument” which can damage their reputation and their relationships with people. Indigenous Peoples.

“We are working hard to improve. There are a lot of perceptions about this hospital that go back a long time, and those are hard to change because they are part of the history that some people have lived with,” he acknowledged. .

Copenace told CBC News he had not received a message, but would contact the hospital to discuss the situation.

History of negative hospital experiences

Jennifer Dreaver, chief operating officer of Kenora Chiefs Advisory (KCA), a First Nations health and social services agency that works with nine communities, said she was saddened but not surprised to hear what Copenace has said to have lived in the hospital.

“It’s disconcerting to the community as it continues to erode trust in the use of the Kenora hospital,” Dreaver, of the Mistawasis Nehiyawak First Nation, said in Treaty 6.

Jennifer Dreaver, chief operating officer of the Kenora Chiefs Advisory (KCA), says her organization represents the interests of First Nations people seeking health care in the Kenora District. (Submitted by Jennifer Dreaver)

Dreaver said he has heard many stories of First Nations people choosing to bypass the Kenora hospital and travel hundreds of extra miles to get medical help in Thunder Bay or Winnipeg, adding that there is a long history of mistrust between the hospital and surrounding First Nations.

As an agency that advocates for Indigenous patients, the KCA has partnered with the Kenora Hospital on a “reconciliation through health” project that will see the construction of a new facility — the hospital of all nations — to replace the existing building and improve health care for Aboriginal people.

“We want to work together to validate patient experiences and make them feel heard, to have transparent processes for people to address their concerns, and to have responsiveness from the hospital,” Dreaver said.

“A life of work”

Dreaver said the goal is to have a local hospital where people can trust and have adequate resources, and where staff have training in cultural safety and trauma-informed care.

Work is underway at the existing facility, including hiring more Indigenous staff and patient advocates and improving the complaints process, but it’s taking time, Dreaver said.

“It’s a lifetime of work to build these bridges.”

But change isn’t happening soon enough, Copenace said.

“We are still speaking in a completely different language than non-Indigenous health professionals, and our people are suffering.”

He fears that more Indigenous people are choosing to stay home and not seek help, leading to higher rates of premature death – a link established in the 2020 BC Indigenous Racism Report in health care.

“I have nothing but respect for the medical profession, but I just want to see those racial lines broken and our children well served.”

If you or someone you know is having trouble, here’s where to get help:

This guide to Center for Addiction and Mental Health explains how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.