Provincial plans to make cab drivers responsible for seeing discharged hospital patients across their thresholds are unreasonable, and will do little to improve patient safety.
After three patients were found dead outside their Winnipeg homes in the last two years — two of which occurred late last month within 24 hours of each other — Health Minister Erin Selby promised to give city taxi drivers the mandatory responsibility of ensuring discharged hospital patients they transport make it home safely.
As the Winnipeg Free Press reported on Monday, Manitoba Health is drafting new rules spelling out cabbies’ new responsibilities.
Two elderly men who were treated and released at the Grace Hospital last month were found dead outside their homes in frigid late-December weather. Seventy-eight-year-old David Silver died on Dec. 31 after he was dropped off by a cab at about 1:30 am.
In Silver’s case, he had been discharged from the Grace ER where he was diagnosed with kidney stones and gallstones, told to see his family doctor and sent home. Moments after the cab pulled away, he suffered a heart attack, and was found much later that day by his housekeeper a short distance from his front door.
The other man, identified by the CBC as Wayne Miller, may have suffered an aneurysm after being discharged from the Grace on Dec. 29. He was discovered lying unresponsive on the sidewalk.
Even if the cab drivers in these cases had helped the men to their doors, it may not have prevented their deaths.
In the third case, which will be the subject of a provincial inquest, Heather Brenan was discharged from Seven Oaks General hospital in January 2012, and sent home in a taxi. She used a walker to get to her front door before she collapsed. She died the next day.
Even in this situation, it’s difficult to place blame on a cab driver whose job is essentially to provide safe transportation.
That doesn’t mean we’re trying to imply that common sense and compassion should not come into play. If a driver notices a problem while driving a person from point A to point B, or sees a patient having difficulties after they have left the cab, they should feel compelled to offer assistance to a limited degree — like offering to take them back to the hospital, for example.
Winnipeg cab drivers say they are uncomfortable with the intended new rules, and suggest they should not be given responsibilities as limited care givers to discharged patients.
“We drop them at the door and (help) if we know they need help,” cabbie Gurpreet Brar said. “Sometimes we wait until they open the door. Sometimes we ask them if they have keys and we say, ‘I can wait for you.’”
Another taxi driver says Winnipeg’s taxi board does not allow drivers to go inside a customer’s home, a policy that would conflict with the changes proposed by the provincial health minister.
We happen to agree with the cabbies — no cab driver can be expected to understand the condition of a customer sitting in their back seat.
But our largest problem with these proposed changes is that Selby is placing the onus on cabbies, and not the hospital and its health workers who discharged the patients in the first place. This is an incredibly irrational response, and makes use question why the province is going after the taxi industry and not the medical health professionals who are ultimately responsible for patient care.
What the provincial government should be more concerned with is the fact that at least three patients have been sent home by hospital staff when perhaps they should not have been.
All the government may accomplish by this misguided attempt to further regulate the taxi industry is to prompt taxi companies and drivers to refuse hospital fares — and they would be perfectly within their rights to do so.