Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut February 24, 2017 - 8:30 am

Iqaluit woman’s death “heartbreaking” Nunavut health minister says

“We will have further information in the fairly near future”

Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes said Feb. 22 that the death of 61-year-old Annie Kootoo in January 2015 is
Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes said Feb. 22 that the death of 61-year-old Annie Kootoo in January 2015 is "heartbreaking" and he offered his condolences to her friends and family, saying the coroner's report on her death reveals gaps in the care she received from the health care system. (FILE PHOTO)

The Jan. 3, 2015 death of 61-year-old Annie Kootoo was “heartbreaking,” and the Department of Health continues to review Nunavut Coroner Padma Suramala’s report on it, Health Minister George Hickes said Feb. 22 in the legislative assembly.

“It’s heartbreaking. I know members of the family under this specific instance and it’s a very difficult topic,” he said.

And he said most of the coroner’s recommendations are “pretty straightforward” and there were “obviously some gaps” in the care the woman received from the Nunavut health system.

“We are looking at the specific details that led to this unfortunate incident, and my sincerest condolences to the family and to all the people that were friends of that person and for the family,” Hickes said.

Hickes made those remarks in committee of the whole, at the start of the legislative assembly’s scrutiny of the health department’s budget, in response to questions from Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik.

Kootoo died of a severely poisoned liver at an Ottawa hospital after being admitted to Qikiqtani General Hospital on Nov. 14, 2014 for an active tuberculosis infection.

There, she had been treated with a common TB medication called isoniazid, which is known to cause damage to the liver if not carefully managed.

Suramala concluded in her report that Kootoo died of liver failure related to “izoniazid toxicity.”

She also made 11 recommendations, including recommendations that Nunavut health workers use Inuktitut interpreters to inform patients about the potential complications of TB medication along with “simple written instructions” for TB patients and their families.

In response to a follow-up question from Okalik, Hickes said he wants his department to perform all due diligence before he provides a full response to the coroner’s report, but he did say the department is already doing some work related to the report’s recommendations.

“Just for the sake of the public and for all members here, we don’t wait to react to reports such as this,” Hickes said.

He said the department is putting together a three-person quality assurance committee that is just now being staffed and is also setting up processes to properly orient new and casual nurses to Nunavut.

Kootoo’s family told Nunatsiaq News, in a story published Feb. 21, that they believe Kootoo received poor health care because she was an Inuk, and because of language and cultural gaps between her and her non-Inuit health care providers.

Okalik asked Hickes about when the health department will do more training on cultural orientation for its staff.

“I know that if anyone is going to work in Nunavut, they should be aware of our culture because it’s unique,” Okalik said.

Hickes replied that the first such training class will start this April.

And he also said the department is working with the Department of Culture and Heritage and the Canadian Foundation for Health Care Improvement on those efforts.

He said the department wants to do more to orient new health workers when they are recruited and also wants to ensure that Nunavut health care professionals are competent in all areas.

“One of the things that I really want to highlight under this is that when we bring up medical health professionals, the cultural component is very important, but in addition to the health competency component of it, there are practices, policies, and procedures in place that our health care professionals must follow,” Hickes said.

“When there are gaps in that and when there is maybe a lack of understanding, that’s when situations arise that put people at risk.”

Hickes didn’t say when the department will finish reviewing the report.

“Like I said, there are a number of them [recommendations] that are already being actioned, but we will have further information in the fairly near future. I can’t commit to a date, Mr. Chairman,” he said.

Okalik replied by saying he’s willing to wait.

“I know this is a very touchy issue, so I’ll try to be patient and wait in regard to this,” Okalik said.

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