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Manitoba judge calls for review of health care at remand centre following death

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WINNIPEG — A Manitoba judge is calling for an independent review of health services at the Winnipeg Remand Centre following an inquest into the death of an epileptic inmate who had not been given anti-seizure medication.

Provincial court Judge Heather Pullan also wants the province to transfer responsibility for inmate care at all provincial jails from the Justice Department to the Health Department, and to train nurses and guards on how to deal with people with seizures.

Pullan made the recommendations after hearing evidence about the death of Errol Greene.

Greene, 26, had been arrested for breaching a bail order not to drink alcohol. He was brought to the remand centre on April 30, 2016, to await a bail hearing. He notified staff he used valporic acid to control his epilepsy.

It was a Saturday. No doctor was scheduled to visit the centre, which serves as a temporary holding facility for close to 300 inmates, until Monday.

The next day, Greene was on the phone with his partner, Rochelle Pranteau, who told the inquest Greene complained about not being given medication. He started having a seizure during that call and collapsed.

A second seizure followed an hour later. Greene was restrained by staff and became unresponsive. He was taken to hospital and died a few hours later.

“Had Mr. Greene been given valporic acid in the 48 hours prior to his death, he likely would have had a higher blood level than the 6.9-micrograms at autopsy, and be better protected from seizure,” Pullan wrote in her report released Tuesday.

A nurse at the centre dealt with Greene shortly after his arrival but was a new employee and did not have access to the prescription drug database that would have confirmed his medication, the inquest report said.

A second nurse who later dealt with Greene did not give him valporic acid, partly because she did not know what else he may have consumed.

Corey Shefman, the lawyer who represents Greene’s widow, said he welcomed the report.

“For a person living with epilepsy, having access to their anti-seizure medications is crucial. And so them having not given it to him exposes a number of really serious problems with health services in corrections,” Shefman said.

Pullan also said the province should bolster recruitment and retention of nurses to address staff shortages and reduce the number of times nurses work alone.

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said the government has set up a team of senior officials to review the recommendations, and has already taken steps to improve care at the remand centre.

“These improvements include ensuring that a physician is scheduled to attend the remand centre every day,” Cullen said.

“We have also improved record-keeping and file storage at the facility to ensure that health information is meticulously recorded.”

Greene was one of five people who died at the remand centre in 2016 — the highest annual number in recent years.

Among the others was Russell Spence, who struggled with guards while being processed. A pathologist attributed the death to cardiac arrhythmia combined with the effects of methamphetamine.

Robert McAdam, 53, also died in custody. His family told the Winnipeg Free Press McAdam committed suicide after years of alcohol abuse.

 

 

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Greene had been arrested for breaching a probation order.

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Blair says more gun-control action needed, signals no new steps before election

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OTTAWA — Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair says more must be done to address gun violence, but is also signalling that no new measures will be taken before the fall election.

Steps could — and should — be taken to prevent the theft, illegal diversion and cross-border smuggling of handguns, Blair said Tuesday. 

As he entered a cabinet meeting, Blair emphasized the importance of secure storage of firearms to prevent them from being stolen and ending up in the wrong hands.

The government is also open to working with municipalities to allow them to decide exactly where, or even if, firearms can be stored within their boundaries, he said.

However, the parliamentary sitting is expected to conclude shortly and the government is scrambling to tie up loose ends before the summer recess and an election campaign likely to begin in September.  

“Some of this would require regulatory and legislative change,” Blair said. “And I think it’s important not only to do the right thing, but to take the time to do it right.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Blair last August to study the possibility of a ban on handguns and assault-style rifles after a shooting spree in Toronto.

A recently released summary of a federal consultation said Canadians were divided on the idea.

Still, Blair’s office said late last month that no options had been ruled out to clamp down on guns “designed to hunt people” as it weighed new measures.

Rumours of a federal ban on the popular AR-15 semi-automatic rifle began to circulate.

While Blair reiterated Tuesday there are firearms the government considers “so dangerous that there really is no place in a safe and civil society for them,” he made no firm commitment to ban or buy back such guns from owners.

Blair stressed a need for measures to ensure secure storage, prevent people from buying firearms on behalf of criminals and deter smuggling into Canada from the United States, which he called “the largest handgun arsenal in the world.”

“There are a number of very effective measures that I believe that we can and must take to create a safer environment.”

The law already requires safe storage of firearms, but there has been a “significant increase” in the theft of large numbers of handguns from homes and retailers, with the guns ending up on the street in the wrong hands, he said.

Blair acknowledged there are responsible handgun owners who obey all the rules. “We may ask them to undertake additional measures to secure their weapons to make sure that they’re not vulnerable to being stolen.”

Allowing municipalities to enact additional restrictions on handguns would not only be “wholly inadequate,” it would also be inefficient, said Heidi Rathjen, co-ordinator of PolySeSouvient, which wants an overhaul of the gun classification system with the ultimate aim of banning weapons specifically designed to kill people.

“All one has to do is consider the glaring disaster resulting from a patchwork of state and local gun laws south of the border,” she said Tuesday.

“And one has to ask: why would stricter controls on handguns be justified in cities and not in rural areas? It seems more like the Liberals chose not to deal with the highly politicized issue of banning handguns and instead decided to pass the buck to municipalities.”

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


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Prevention key focus of dementia strategy released by federal government

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OTTAWA — The cornerstone philosophy behind the federal government’s long-awaited strategy for confronting dementia is a simple one: prevent Canadians from developing the condition in the first place.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, who unveiled the strategy Monday at an event in Toronto, said she has an intimate understanding of the difficulty that comes with dealing with a family member who’s in cognitive decline.

“Being the daughter of a mother who lives with dementia, it is certainly near and dear to my heart,” Petitpas Taylor said in an interview.

“When I see many family members that have had to deal with the challenges, I know, because I’ve been there and we certainly want to make sure that we do all that we can to alleviate the stress that’s involved.”

The government’s dementia plan, which focuses primarily on prevention, advancing therapies and helping patients and caregivers, includes $50 million over five years to support the strategy, money that was announced in the federal budget earlier this year.

It defines dementia as a collection of symptoms affecting the brain that include a decline in cognitive abilities such as memory, language, basic math skills, judgment and planning. Mood and behaviour can also change as a result, the document notes.

The report says more than 419,000 Canadian seniors have been diagnosed with some form of dementia, and they rely on an average of 26 hours a week of help from relatives and friends. Some 78,600 new cases of dementia are diagnosed every year among those aged 65 years and older, with 63 per cent of those being women.

At its current rate, the condition will cost caregivers and the health care system a staggering $16.6 billion a year by 2031.

“As this number does not include those under age 65 who may have a young onset diagnosis, nor those that have not been diagnosed, the true picture of dementia in Canada may be somewhat larger,” it says.

“While dementia is not an inevitable part of aging, age is the most important risk factor. As a result, with a growing and aging population, the number of Canadians living with dementia is expected to increase in future decades.”

Canadians can stave off the danger as they get older by getting more exercise, adopting healthier eating habits and avoiding tobacco, all of which can increase the risk of stroke, a common cause of dementia.

“There is growing persuasive scientific evidence that healthy living from an early age may prevent or delay the onset of dementia.”

Petitpas Taylor also announced $46 million over five years for the second phase of Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, a hub for research on dementia created in 2014.

The federal government plans to contribute $31.6 million through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, with an additional $14.4 million being provided by partners, including the Alzheimer Society.

Alzheimer Society of Canada CEO Pauline Tardif sent out a email Monday urging supporters to keep up the pressure on the government through this fall’s election campaign, in order to ensure dementia remains “top of mind for our politicians.”

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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