Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for January 14, 2014

Inquest into women’s deaths is delayed

The coroner’s inquest to investigate the deaths of Teresa Scheunert and Mary Johnny has been postponed.

By Ainslie Cruickshank on January 14, 2014 at 2:56 pm

The coroner’s inquest to investigate the deaths of Teresa Scheunert and Mary Johnny has been postponed.

Kirsten Macdonald, Yukon’s chief coroner, said today the inquest has been delayed to allow those who have applied for standing more time to prepare, and have a better opportunity to participate in all pre-inquest meetings.

Both the Yukon Hospital Corp. and the physicians involved from Watson Lake have applied for standing, Macdonald told the Star.

The inquest will now tentatively take place in the early summer, rather than the March 24-April 2 time slot originally planned for, the coroner said.

Macdonald also announced that she will not preside over the inquest. Instead, she is searching for another coroner to preside in her stead.

The coroner explained today that her decision stemmed from concerns raised by members of Schuenert’s family and the NDP who questioned Macdonald’s ability to preside independently over the inquest.

Concerns were raised in October 2013 after the family publicly released an initial coroner’s report regarding Scheunert’s death that was retracted hours later. Macdonald has said there were errors in the report which needed to be corrected.

Wanda Zimmerman, Scheunert’s sister, said this morning she remains firm in her belief that the death of her sister deserves a full public inquiry presided over by a judge.

“There may not be just one or two interests or issues, it may well represent an actual endemic system issue,” she explained.

Zimmerman also said she would have preferred that the inquest was dealt with earlier.

She pointed to the family’s financial concerns, noting that moving the inquest to the summer months would likely increase the cost of travel and accommodation as the summer is a peak tourism time for the territory. Scheunert’s family will be traveling in from Outside for the inquest.

The whole process is cost prohibitive for the families, Zimmerman continued, highlighting the cost of hiring a lawyer and the difficulty of preparing a submission and conduct cross examination without one – issues not faced by the hospital corporation.

There’s a legal imbalance, she said.

Zimmerman would like the government to offer better support to the families of Scheunert and Johnny, both in securing legal representation and managing the travel costs.

It’s no fault of the families that their loved ones died after care at the Watson Lake hospital, she noted, adding that as she understands it witnesses called to testify during the inquest receive funding to cover their travel and accommodation costs.

Both Scheunert and Johnny died after treatment at the Watson Lake Hospital in the summer of 2012.

Johnny died of a bowel obstruction at the age of 60 in August 2012.

She had been misdiagnosed at the Watson Lake Hospital. By the time she was transferred to Whitehorse General Hospital, she was in severe shock and her organs were failing.

Scheunert, 47, died in June 2012.

The coroner’s report found she had died from a toxic mix of medication, as indicated by the forensic pathology report.

That finding was challenged by an external patient safety review commissioned by the hospital corporation, which suggested Scheunert more likely died from obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder which causes stops and starts in breathing during sleep.

By Ainslie Cruickshank
Star Reporter

CommentsAdd a comment

Outoftowner

Jan 14, 2014 at 11:55 pm

People died and it takes a full inquest to get some answers from Yukon Health. Can you now see the scope of stonewalling we get in the communities when we even question some of community nursing station’s practices. Yeah! You get it!

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