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Review finds Winnipeg hospital did nothing wrong putting patients into taxis

WINNIPEG - An internal investigation by Winnipeg's health authority has found a city hospital did nothing wrong when it sent two patients home by taxi who later died on their doorsteps.

Arlene Wilgosh, CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said the critical incident reviews didn't find any problems with the medical decisions to discharge both men. Both patients were suffering from underlying medical conditions that caused their sudden deaths, she said.

"If you have an underlying condition that could predispose you to sudden death, you can't predict when that is going to happen," she said Thursday. "The medical assessments were deemed appropriate. These gentlemen were deemed competent. The discharges were deemed appropriate."

The patients were discharged from Grace Hospital and sent home in cabs within days of each other around the new year. Both died before they made it inside their homes as the temperature dipped below -20 C.

One man, 78-year-old David Silver, was found frozen on his doorstep about 14 hours after he had been sent home from the hospital in the middle of the night. Relatives said an autopsy found his death was due to a heart condition.

The other patient, 62-year-old Wayne Miller, was spotted on a sidewalk by a passing driver who called 911.

A year ago, there was a third death in the city under similar circumstances. Heather Brenan, 68, was discharged from another hospital and sent home in a taxi. She collapsed on her doorstep and was rushed back to hospital, where she died from a blood clot that had travelled to her lungs. An inquest has been called into her death.

Although the Seven Oaks General Hospital updated its discharge guidelines following Brenan's death, Wilgosh said the authority is doing more in the wake of these recent tragedies. The authority will come up with a checklist to ensure discharged patients can manage when they get home, she said.

The health authority is also working with taxi companies so drivers have specific instructions if their passengers require extra care, she added. But she said the health authority isn't going to put the lives of patients into the hands of taxi drivers.

"I don't think that we are going to turn the taxicab drivers into medical professionals," Wilgosh said. "We will be expecting that the health care system has done the appropriate assessment of the patient."

Silver's nephew, Miles Pollock, said he is pleased the health authority is taking steps to fill gaps in its discharge procedure. But he's still concerned the hospital didn't give enough consideration to his uncle's age, the time of night and the blistering cold when they sent him home in a taxi.

Even without an underlying heart condition, Pollock said being sent home from hospital in the middle of the night in the dead of winter could test anyone's health.

"The hospital officials perhaps should have given more consideration to the risks of sending a tired, elderly gentleman with medical issues out into -40 degrees in the middle of the night," Pollock said. "Moreover, you're doing that without someone responsible to ensure he's getting into his house safely.

"In my uncle's case, maybe consideration of the cold or other factors might have saved his life."

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