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Indigenous woman says she called 911 from Ottawa hospital after nurses denied her water

Indigenous woman says she called 911 from Ottawa hospital after nurses denied her water

She claimed that nurses complained regularly about the tasks involved in her care during her two-week stay and made her feel guilty about making them work.

An Inuk woman from Pangnirtung, Nunavut, claims nurses at a hospital in Ottawa mistreated her during her two-week stay at the facility following a pelvis injury. Leesee Qaqasiq said she had to call 911 in desperation after the nurses on the night shift at the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital denied her water and refused to change her diaper. According to CBC News, Qaqasiq was flown to Ottawa after she fractured her pelvis in mid-October. It's a common practice for Nunavummiut requiring medical care to be medevaced to facilities in southern Canada since the territory has limited medical facilities.



 

Qaqasiq said doctors told her she may have sustained the injury from landing too hard on her wheelchair. She added that she often has to chase after the wheelchair — which was salvaged at the dump — when she's not sitting in it because it has no brakes. Upon arrival at the Ottawa Hospital, Qaqasiq was heavily reliant on the staff as her injury made it difficult for her to do much. "I had to rely on the nurses to change me, to change my diapers, and they were so tired of doing it that they said I can just pee in them," she said from her home on Baffin Island.



 

Things got so bad towards the end of her stay that on November 2, Qaqasiq said nurses on the night shift refused to change her diaper and denied her water so that she wouldn't urinate. "There was one [nurse] that said I peed too much and denied me water because I was going to pee too much," she said. "I wasn't given water all night long until I called 911 in desperation. I thought I was going to die of thirst."



 

Emergency medical services eventually arrived at her hospital room and delivered bottles of water to her, said Qaqasiq. She claimed that nurses complained regularly about the tasks involved in her care during her two-week stay and made her feel guilty about taking their help. Qaqasiq, who attended residential school as a child, believes she was mistreated because she's Inuk. "I felt guilty for making them work," she said. "We're done. Like, we're not going to be treated like that anymore, anywhere." She added that after her experience at the hospital, she is concerned about the elders in her community who may have to seek medical care in such facilities.



 

"What I'm most afraid of is elders who cannot speak English — how will they be treated?" she asked. "They will have no way of knowing what to do, where to go, who to talk to." The Ottawa Hospital denied reporters requests for an interview but addressed the incident in a written statement. Media relations officer Michaela Schreiter said in the statement that the hospital's patient relations department is "reviewing the situation to ensure all concerns are addressed. The hospital sincerely apologizes for any negative experiences that do not align with [its] values."



 

There have long been complaints of indigenous patients being mistreated by Canadian health care workers. Cheryl Ward, the B.C. provincial lead for the San'yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Program — which is designed to "increase Aboriginal-specific knowledge, enhance individual self-awareness and strengthen skills for any professional working directly or indirectly with Indigenous people" — has personally experienced racism in Canada's health-care system. "I can tell you horror stories... My own mother experienced overt racism, violence and was treated like she wasn't a human being," she told CBC News.



 

Ward added that Canadians like to believe that Indigenous people are treated as "full members of society," even when evidence suggests otherwise. "What happens when we are faced with reports and data and statistics that show us that Indigenous people have a different reality in Canada. What do we do about it?" she asked. 

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