COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Jaswinder Singh sits in his cab near the Brandon hospital on Monday afternoon. The deaths of two Winnipeg patients in the past month has cast a spotlight on the health-care system’s policies toward discharged patients and taxi use.
Making sure a discharged hospital patient gets inside safely after being sent home by taxi goes beyond his job description, one local cab driver says.
A cab driver awaits a fare outside a Brandon grocery store on Monday evening. The deaths of two Winnipeg hospital patients in the last month has cast a spotlight on the health-care system’s policies toward discharged patients. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Niansheng Mao, who has been a cab driver in Brandon for three years, said he already spends a lot of his own time helping elderly customers get in and out of taxis.
"For us, time is money," Mao said. "We can’t stay there for five to 10 minutes watching and waiting.
"We already do a lot for that."
The province plans to make cab drivers responsible for seeing discharged hospital patients across their thresholds following the deaths of three patients in Winnipeg.
Health Minister Erin Selby said last week city taxi drivers will be given the mandatory responsibility of ensuring discharged patients they transport make it home safely. Manitoba Health is drafting new rules spelling out cabbies’ responsibilities.
Prairie Mountain Health CEO Penny Gilson said once a physician has deemed a patient fit to go home, staff discusses transportation arrangements with them.
Gilson said they try to arrange alternatives to taking a taxi, but sometimes that’s a patient’s "only means for transportation." She added taxi cabs are like a last resort for patients being discharged from the hospital.
"I hope that we’re using an abundance of caution in terms of making sure those patients are absolutely fit to go home in a cab," Gilson said. "I know the staff do ask cab drivers to make sure that they go in the door."
Local cab driver Jaswinder Singh said in winter he makes sure his customers get into their home safely, no matter where he picks them up from.
"Sometimes people forget their keys somewhere, and when there’s too much cold, that’s trouble," Singh said. "I can’t speak for other drivers, but when there’s too much cold, then I wait to make sure people get in their house."
The two elderly men who died last month were treated and released at Winnipeg’s Grace Hospital within 24 hours of each other. Each was found dead outside in frigid late-December weather.
David Silver, 78, died Dec. 31 after being dropped off at home by a cab about 1:30 a.m. He had a heart attack moments after the cab pulled away. He wasn’t found until much later that day when his housekeeper discovered him lying a short distance from his front door.
In the other recent death, a man in his late 50s or early 60s — the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority would not confirm his name or age — was discharged from Grace Hospital about 8:25 a.m. on Dec. 29.
The third case, from January 2012, will be the subject of a provincial inquest. Heather Brenan, 68, was discharged from Seven Oaks General Hospital and sent home in a taxi.
Using a walker, Brenan got to her front door before she collapsed. She died the next day.
Mao said cases like these have him questioning why the responsibility should fall on the cab driver’s shoulders.
"It cannot be the cab driver’s responsibility," he said. "Maybe we can work together with somebody else for them."
Although making sure a customer gets into their home safely isn’t one of their polices, ABC Taxi driver John Borsch said it’s just "common sense."
But if a customer requires assistance and a cab driver doesn’t provide any, they could face a one-day suspension, Borsch said.
In the three years he has been with the local company, he said it has only had to hand out one suspension after a customer called in to complain.
As for going inside a customer’s home, that becomes a safety issue, Borsch said.
"We don’t really want to be going into customers’ homes," he said.
"If they’re able to get to the front door and the door is open, we usually won’t go inside the house."
In regards to the recent deaths in Winnipeg, Borsch said "it kind of broke me up."
"I don’t know the exact circumstances around that ... but that will never happen here, not with our company."
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is set to meet with Taxicab Board representatives this week to discuss the incidents.
Under the authority of Manitoba’s Taxicab Act, the Taxicab Board only regulates Winnipeg’s cabbie industry. Brandon’s cab industry is regulated by City of Brandon bylaws, and licensed through the Treasury Department.
When it comes to taking on more responsibility for their customers, Borsch said he wouldn’t be opposed to the idea.
"If they want to make it a rule, that’s fine with me and fine with our company," he said. "That’s kind of our company’s policy is to make sure the customer is safe."
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with Winnipeg Free Press files
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 14, 2014