Warning: This story contains graphic images.
A Métis woman who lives with diabetes is speaking out after she says she was turned away from a hospital emergency department in Winnipeg last week while in medical distress.
Jacqueline Flett, 38, went to St. Boniface Hospital last Thursday, after she developed a painful ulcer on her foot and her blood sugar levels were off. She knew something was wrong.
“The infection was going up my leg — it was excruciating pain,” said Flett. “My foot was like three times the [usual] size.”
Before going to the hospital, she checked wait times on the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority wait time website.
Flett says after she arrived, she waited two hours in the wait room before being triaged, which seemed out of step with the wait times posted online.
She eventually approached the nurses, who she says told her they hadn’t seen her waiting. A nurse took Flett’s temperature and began the intake process.
There were only three other people waiting in the seats around her after she’d had her temperature taken, Flett said.
She sat back down, but was frustrated and started documenting details of her visit on her phone. Then she tried calling patient relations.
A short time later, she says she saw nursing staff call security guards over. Flett said the guards approached her and told her the nurses claimed she was using the camera on her phone to take photos or video.
That isn’t allowed in hospitals under the Personal Health Information Act. Flett says she was aware of this and hadn’t been filming or taking pictures.
Told to leave
The guards asked to see her phone. Flett allowed them to take a look, but all they found were photos of her kids and her diabetic foot wound, she said.
“They seen that there was no pictures, there was no videos. They went on my social media, there was no pictures or video on my Snapchat,” said Flett. “They told me I was to go to another hospital.”
The suspicion and long wait she experienced reminded her of Brian Sinclair, whose death at another Winnipeg hospital has been called a preventable product of racism.
The 45-year-old Indigenous man died in 2008, when he waited 34 hours for care in the Health Sciences Centre emergency room.
Flett says she asked the nursing staff whether the treatment she was receiving was due to her Indigenous heritage and whether this was “going to be a repeat” of what happened to Sinclair.
“They said, ‘Don’t you dare go there,’ and I said, ‘Guess what? I went there, because I’m not getting the adequate care from your care team,'” said Flett.
“[The staff person] said, ‘Well, then you can go receive adequate care somewhere else.’ And I was escorted embarrassingly out of the room.”
Flett said she wasn’t given time to call a cab. She walked on her swollen and red leg to a nearby McDonald’s.
The next day, she took a cab to Seven Oaks General Hospital, where she says staff triaged her immediately.
“They treated me with dignity,” she said. “They were very supportive.”
The infection had progressed up to her thigh, and Flett received care for eight hours. She needed an emergency CT scan and three bags of intravenous fluids.
Now, Flett says she’s being treated for a bone infection.
Flett also called in a complaint to St. Boniface, which the hospital says it is investigating.
“The events as described are troubling, and do not align with the values of St. Boniface Hospital, nor would the events as described meet our hospital’s quality of care standards,” the hospital said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We will certainly work with this individual through our patient relations office to better understand what occurred and attempt to rectify any outstanding concerns.”
Flett said she decided to share her story in hopes of preventing something similar from happening again.
“I just want people to be aware of their rights — that they shouldn’t be getting mistreated in hospital,” Flett said.
Indigenous people should feel “they can go to the hospital for adequate care and it will be met without discrimination, without judgment.”
They should feel “they don’t need to be silenced” like Brian Sinclair, she said.