Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for December 12, 2013

Review physician never spoke to pathologist

The family of Teresa Scheunert and the NDP are renewing their call for a public inquiry into her death as a third possible cause was revealed this week.

By Ainslie Cruickshank on December 12, 2013 at 4:41 pm

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

Teresa Scheunert and Wanda Zimmerman

The family of Teresa Scheunert and the NDP are renewing their call for a public inquiry into her death as a third possible cause was revealed this week.

The Yukon Hospital Corp. revealed the results of an external patient safety review Wednesday.

They suggested the most likely cause of Scheunert’s death was cardiac arrhythmia associated with sleep apnea.

This is contrary to the findings of the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy and found the most consistent cause of death was mixed-drug toxicity. (See story above.)

Jason Bilsky, the CEO of the YHC, and Dr. Robert Robson, the doctor who conducted the review, met with members of Scheunert’s family on Tuesday to discuss his findings.

Wanda Zimmerman, Sheunert’s sister, said the family has lost faith that the public interest is being served.

A major concern for her is that Robson didn’t speak with the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy while conducting his review.

He did speak with 25 individuals involved in Scheunert’s care and three of her family members.

“And he even recognized that he can’t prove that my sister and their mother died of a heart attack,” Zimmerman told the Star.

“This raises far more questions for us now than we ever had before,” she said.

“In fact, more than ever, we think there should be a broad and pubic inquiry presided over by an independent judge that also looks into why it was so hard to get an autopsy and how Teresa’s body was treated,” she said.

Zimmerman added that the family does not believe the public safety issues associated with Scheunert’s death have been addressed.

Jan Stick, the NDP’s Health and Social Services critic, said she was “shocked” when she heard the results of the patient safety review.

“It just put everything out there back into question,” she said in an interview.

Stick also wondered how the coroner can preside over an inquest if her own findings have been put into question by the patient safety review.

“There are so many more questions than just the facts of the death. I’ve gone back to calling for a public inquiry,” she said.

“It’s a matter of public safety, and the public needs to know the full story, not just the facts of the death.”

Stick raised the issue during question period Wednesday, asking the Health Minister Doug Graham to call a public inquiry.

Graham asked “what could possibly be brought out in a public inquiry that won’t be brought out during this coroner’s inquest?”

He later added he trusts all the facts will come out at the inquest and “we’ll all understand what happened.”

Stick raised concerns that only facts regarding the death will be revealed at the inquest.

“What will not be looked at is disturbance of the body after the death and before the autopsy,” she said.

“These are critical incidents that need to be addressed and will not be in the coroner’s inquest. These are questions that we’ve asked in the interest of public safety, something all Yukoners are concerned about,” she said.

Responded Graham: “We’re not going to prejudge the coroner’s inquiry; we’re not going to try to usurp the coroner’s abilities and responsibilities here.

“We’re going to do what’s right; we’re going to allow the process to proceed; we’re going to allow the coroner’s jury to come up with recommendations and, unlike the members opposite, we won’t prejudge what is going to happen,” Graham responded.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon,  Stick said Graham needs to “take ministerial responsibility and ask for a public inquiry.”

Graham did not respond to requests for a follow-up interview by press time this afternoon.

Scheunert died at the age of 47 on June 21, 2012 at the Watson Lake Hospital, where she’d been receiving treatment for chronic back pain.

Initially, the family was told she died of a heart attack, but the results of an autopsy suggested the more likely cause of death was mixed-drug toxicity.

The NDP and the family called for a public inquiry into Scheunert’s death earlier this fall, citing unanswered questions about her treatment and the release of an initial coroner’s report that was recalled hours after it was released to the family.

The coroner has said the first report contained errors which she corrected in the second report released almost a month later.

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