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Whistleblower’s claim of substandard medical care at Edmonton Remand confirmed by watchdog

An investigation into the medical care of five people incarcerated at the Edmonton Remand Centre has revealed “serious and significant wrongdoing.”

Alberta’s Public Interest Commissioner Kevin Brezinski announced Wednesday that the cases, brought to his attention by an anonymous whistleblower, amounted to “inconsistent and arbitrary” treatment.

There are no names of the incarcerated patients or the people who were responsible to care for them in the public report and dates for the incidents are not provided.

Of the five cases Brezinski considered, four of the people went to hospital and two died.

He worked with an expert nursing consultant to review the medical records and treatment history of the five patients.

“Medical staff did not reassess, or conduct insufficient or infrequent reassessment of emerging symptoms for four patients relating to pain, shortness of breath, abnormal vital signs or high temperature,” Brezinski concluded.

“In one specific incident, it took two days for medical staff to begin treatment after noting a patient’s toe was black and swollen with fluid.”

Brezinski also found gaps in documentation, handwritten medical records that were hard to read and standards of Alberta Health Services (AHS) that were not met.

“These significant lapses in the standard of care demonstrated a substantial and specific danger to the life, health, safety of patients who received treatment at the correctional centre. This was serious and significant wrongdoing,” he concluded.

A spokesperson for AHS expressed its “deepest sympathies” to the people impacted in a Wednesday statement to CTV News Edmonton.

“It is imperative that all individuals in our corrections system are provided with the same consistent, high-quality care as every Albertan,” Kerry Wiliamson wrote.

Brezinski’s report recommends that AHS review the specific cases and current policies and suggested records be kept digitally, rather than handwritten.

The public interest commissioner did note that AHS was already aware of some of the cases and has already made improvements. He said the health authority was “fully cooperative” in his probe.

“I am encouraged by the organization’s commitment to improve the systemic issues identified in the investigation and focus on implementation of my recommendations,” he wrote.

Williamson said AHS has already hired a new nursing professional practice consultant to ensure that rules are up to date, communicated and reassessed.

“This includes implementing new policies and required practices to monitor and record vital signs, and new protocols to manage both drug and/or alcohol withdrawal, pain management and wound care,” he wrote.

Two additional patients were identified by the whistleblower later in the process, but the cases were not reviewed by the nursing consultant, so Brezinski made no determination on those. He did note that Corrections Health “expressed concern” about all seven cases.

Edmonton Remand Centre, located in north Edmonton at 184 Avenue and 127 Street, has a capacity of 1,952 and houses people awaiting trial.

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