Nunavut nurse’s civil affidavit mentions death of Cape Dorset baby

“I said to Neevee that she should come to the clinic if the baby didn’t settle”

By THOMAS ROHNER

Debbie McKeown, the former Cape Dorset nurse at the centre of a scandal involving the death of a three-month-old baby in 2012, is giving her side of the story.

That story, now public information, is contained in an affidavit recently filed with the Nunavut Court of Justice in connection with court proceedings McKeown launched against the territorial body that licenses and disciplines nurses — the Registered Nursing Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

That affidavit was filed with the court but not presented in open court proceedings yet. None of the statements in it have been proven.

In the affidavit, McKeown addresses the allegation that she refused to see the baby on April 4, 2012 while working at the Cape Dorset health centre hours before the infant died.

Those allegations about McKeown’s conduct were contained in a CBC investigative story that ran in October 2014.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and Nunavut’s health department has appointed lawyer Katherine Peterson to investigate what happened in the wake of the tragic death.

“At 9 p.m. [on April 4, 2012] I received a telephone call from the mother of Makibi Timilak regarding the child. I triaged the call with questions for Neevee, the mother,” McKeown’s affidavit says.

An affidavit is a court document containing facts sworn to by the person authorising the document — in this case, McKeown.

Triaging, McKeown explains, involves assessing a patient’s need for treatment as well as “the severity and nature of the medical problem.”

“I provided Neevee with advice on what she should do. I said to Neevee that she should come to the clinic if the baby didn’t settle,” McKeown says.

McKeown’s affidavit does not contain specifics about the advice she is alleged to have given to Makibi’s mother.

At 3 a.m. on the morning of April 5, 2012, McKeown said she received a call “to say the baby was not breathing.”

When Makibi was brought into the clinic shortly afterward, McKeown said “rigor had set in.”

“My initial assessment was that the baby had been deceased for some time.”

McKeown said she then started CPR on the infant, but that she “did not expect that this would produce a viable baby.”

McKeown remembers talking to Makibi’s father, Luutaaq Qaumagiaq, shortly thereafter.

“Luutaaq told me that at 10 p.m. the baby had settled and had been breast fed and was smiling and happy,” McKeown says in her affidavit.

“He told me they put the baby down to sleep on its belly some time after 11 p.m.”

Nunavut’s chief coroner, Padma Suramala, ruled at first that Makibi’s death was caused by sudden infant death syndrome, also known as “SIDS.”

But an autopsy later revealed that Makibi died of a treatable lung infection that affected both of his lungs.

The CBC story alleged that Makibi’s mother, Neevee Akesuk, told McKeown her child suffered from congestion and laboured breathing all day on April 4, 2012.

The CBC story also alleged that McKeown, who was the on-call nurse in Cape Dorset at the time, instructed Akesuk to bathe her child instead of bringing him into the health centre.

The Government of Nunavut’s policy for nurses says “all infants under one (1) year of age must be fully assessed in the clinic, whether it is during or after regularly scheduled clinic hours.”

In her affidavit, McKeown says she was contacted on October 21, 2014, by the CBC reporter leading the investigative story.

On the advice of her lawyer, Austin Marshall, McKeown declined an interview with CBC.

She also did not respond to a Nunatsiaq News request for an interview made through Marshall this past January.

Marshall filed McKeown’s affidavit as part of the civil case against the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut (RNANT/NU) currently before the court

That case, which is still in an early phase where lawyers negotiate the sharing of documents, alleges that the association disciplined McKeown twice between 2012 and 2014 for the same complaint filed against her in February, 2012.

McKeown’s application asks the Nunavut Court of Justice to quash disciplinary decisions made against her by the territory’s RNA in 2014.

The remainder of McKeown’s 14-page affidavit, signed on March 10 in Yellowknife, addresses:

• the disciplining measures taken against McKeown by RNANT/NU in 2012, stemming from the original complaint filed by whistle-blowing nurse Gwen Slade in February, 2012;

• correspondence between McKeown and GN health officials, as well as with RNANT/NU officials, in 2013 and 2014 which led to further restrictions being placed on McKeown’s nursing license in 2014.

Nunavut Nursing Practice Policy for Acutely Ill Infants

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