Blame mislaid in hospital fiasco

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Following the tragic recent deaths of two Winnipeg men, both found dead outdoors after being sent home from hospital by taxi, Manitoba’s Health minister promised new rules to make sure it never happened again.

It is unlikely anyone thought those changes would involve taxi drivers.

In a bizarre political move, Erin Selby’s decision to hold taxi drivers accountable for the safety of patients they are transporting home from hospitals sets a new low in what a bureaucracy will do to divert blame.

Selby’s actions suggest that somehow taxi drivers bear responsibility for what happened to David Silver, 78, who died on his own porch after being released from Winnipeg's Grace Hospital at 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 31. His family says he died not from freezing to death, but of a heart-related issue.

Most people probably thought the changes Selby promised would involve greater time and care before discharging patients.

For its part, the health authority in Winnipeg says taxicabs are commonly used to transport patients home from hospitals in the city. No one would dispute that taxicabs can be used in some situations, but when one is dealing with a senior citizen wearing his PJs and slippers on a night when the temperature outside was about –37 C, perhaps common sense could override regular policy.

But this is a ministry under fire. Silver’s death was not the first; if it was it would likely be seen as a tragic accident. But in a second case another man was discharged from the same hospital, taken by a taxi to a residence and found lying on the sidewalk outside the home less than an hour later.

Selby contends the onus should be on taxi drivers to ensure patients being driven home by cab get inside their homes safely. We ask her what difference it makes where they die? They are still dead. Who will she blame if they die two steps inside their front door? The guy who hung the door?

Shockingly, the two recent deaths are not be beginning of this sad tale.

The health authority revised its safe discharge policy after Heather Brenan died under similar circumstances in January 2012. Brenan, 68, was sent home in a taxi from a different Winnipeg hospital. She collapsed on her doorstep and died from blood clots in her lower legs.

But maybe Selby is correct, considering there is presently an inquest into a fourth death, this one of a man during a 34-hour emergency room wait, again in Winnipeg. That would suggest even the hospitals there are not safe. Although that is an unfair conclusion, just as unfair as it is for her to dump responsibility on taxi drivers instead of looking for improvements inside the system for which she is responsible.

Organizations: Grace Hospital, Winnipeg hospital

Geographic location: Winnipeg

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