On Friday, December 10, Heather Winterstein was transported by Ambulance to St Catharine’s General Hospital located halfway between Hamilton and Fort Erie.
According to the family, She collapsed and passed away in the Intensive care unit after two painful days of seeking medical attention had been ignored. Heather was a 24-year-old Onkwehonwe woman
Just the day before her death, Heather sought treatment and visited St Catharine’s General hospital emergency department for complaints of severe back pain. She was sent home with Tylenol.
The following morning, Heather’s condition worsened and her request to be transported to the emergency department for care was met with cynicism and attempts to deter by the EMS. Even offering to transport her to an urgent care facility approximately 35min away in Fort Erie where wait times can be exceedingly long. Time, that Heather didn’t have.
She was eventually transported back to St Catharine’s General Hospital where she was left sitting in the waiting room only to lose consciousness related to the infection that would eventually lead to her death.
A thirty-day average wait time indicates the Emergency Department had not seen critical capacity, so what was it that hindered Heather’s equal access to health care?
She was a Beautiful Anishnaabe Kwe
Her family believes stereotypes and stigmas of indigenous people as possibly mentally ill or “on something” contributed to her untimely death. This sentiment was recently shared by a Coroner in their findings in the Joyce Echaquan case and by a family in the eerily similar case of Brent Sky.
It was the Intensive care unit that alerted Heather’s mother, but by that time CPR had been started. It wasn’t long after her mother arrived that this beautiful young Onkwehonwe woman started her journey to the spirit world. It’s not known how long she sat in the waiting room before being transferred to ICU
Insult to injury
The Go-Fund-Me page started by Heather’s mother states that a Public Health Nurse confirmed the presence of a streptococcus aureus infection. Shockingly public health had called for contact tracing and not to offer condolences or demonstrate compassion for the family.
According to the page, the coroner confirmed for the family that the circumstances surrounding Heather’s death were preventable and the family should follow up with those involved. The family has every intention of doing just that.
A word from the President
“An internal quality care review is underway to fully understand the patient’s experience, and the family will be involved in this process. In addition, I will be speaking with members of the patient’s family and Indigenous leaders in our community to suggest that we work together with an external third party to review this patient’s care. I will also be suggesting that this independent review look more broadly at the healthcare experiences of Indigenous patients and their concerns.”Lynn Guerriero President and CEO of Niagara Health
At this point, what we do know is that the quality of care for Onkwehonwe in Canada can be Deadly. Heather was very sick, but so many opportunities were missed to treat her fairly and without judgement, so her illness could be treated.
She should be alive and preparing to spend the holidays with her family and friends.