The family of an Atikamekw woman is alleging she was neglected by staff at a long-term care home in Joliette, Que.
Marguerite Newashish of Manawan First Nation died in hospital on Feb. 10 from complications related to an intestinal blockage – a condition her family feels could’ve been caught sooner by staff at the publicly-run Sylvie L’Esperance care home.
“This is a huge loss for us. And in this context…. the way she lived her last moments… makes it even more poignant,” said Thérèse Niquay, a cousin of the deceased and the family’s appointed spokesperson, said in an interview with APTN News.
The Newashish family said they were unable to visit Marguerite at Sylvie l’Esperance due to a recent COVID-19 outbreak, adding that Marguerite was among those who tested positive for the virus.
When they learned over the phone that Marguerite was vomiting black bile and had stopped eating and drinking, they felt something else was wrong.
“The staff told us they were giving her morphine to reduce her pain, but there wasn’t any special care they could give her,” Niquay explained.
“According to [Marguerite’s daughter] Isabelle, the staff attributed these symptoms to COVID. But she was convinced there was something more. So she started insisting on an immediate evacuation.”
The family told APTN News they repeatedly asked care home staff to transfer Marguerite to a hospital for urgent care, to no avail.
They allege they had to call 911 to eventually force a transfer by ambulance from the long-term care home to a nearby hospital’s emergency room.
According to the Newashish family, in-hospital tests revealed Marguerite was suffering from an advanced intestinal blockage.
“Her condition had severely deteriorated. There were even toxins that had made it to her brain, and she was totally unresponsive,” Niquay added.
The compounded problems in the health care system in and around Joliette were well-documented during the Quebec coroner’s inquest examining the death of Joyce Echaquan, the Atikamekw mother of seven, also from Manawan, who died at Joliette Hospital in September 2020 after live streaming racial slurs hurled by her caregivers.
The coroner on that case is now hearing testimony in another, separate inquest, this time looking into the various shortcomings of Quebec’s eldercare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS) de Lanaudière, which oversees Sylvie l’Esperance, refused APTN News’ interview request, and specified in an emailed response that complaints are confidential.
APTN also asked about the health authority’s ambulance transfer protocol for patients with COVID-19, which they said vary “according to the conditions and needs of each user.”
However, the Newashish family feels Marguerite – a respected elder who spent her life working in the Lanaudière health care system as an Atikemekw interpreter – wasn’t treated quickly enough.
According to Niquay, another complaint, and possible legal action, are now in the works.
“What’s motivating the family is calling out things that are unacceptable. and they have a right to answers, good answers, about what really happened,” Niquay said.