‘I am deeply sorry’: SHA issues public apology to Samwel Uko’s family and friends

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has offered a formal apology to the family and friends of Samwel Uko for the the events that led to his passing on May 21, 2020.

On Thursday, SHA CEO Scott Livingstone and Executive Director for Acute Care – Regina John Ash delivered the apology, citing a failure within the organization.

“Samwel Uko was improperly denied care from our emergency department at the Regina General Hospital. For this, I am deeply sorry,” started Livingstone during his opening remarks on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m sorry to the parents who loved him. I’m sorry to the family that supported, him, nurtured him and watched him grow into the young leader that he was. And I’m sorry for the community of friends that looked up to him as a role model.”

Livingstone mentioned that Ash and two other SHA officials were in Abbotsford, B.C. over the last couple days with Uko’s family to discuss Thursday’s apology, go over the details of the case and present follow up actions the SHA will be exploring.

“We thank Samwel’s family for their participation in our review of his care and for accepting our formal apology,” reads a release from the health authority.

In a statement from the organization, Samwel Uko sought help in the early evening of May 21 from the emergency department at Regina General Hospital and was “improperly denied care.”

Livingstone noted there were multiple factors that led to Uko’s death rather than pinpointing a single cause. Conflicting information on the patient’s identity, the process for registration of an unidentified patient not being utilized, information sharing practices with key partner organizations and the process involving the removal of patients and visitors were issues noted by the authority’s CEO.

To address the issues, the SHA has revealed six initial areas at quality improvements aimed at preventing recurrence of the situation including adaptation of COVID-19 screening practices, better coordination of mental health supports in the emergency department and additional staff awareness of “Stop the Line” protocols aimed at avoiding potential harm.

Livingstone said some of the improvements have already been implemented.

“The honest truth is we spent too much time trying to obtain his identity and not enough time focusing on his care needs,” he added “Also there was a breakdown in information sharing and hand-off processes with key external agencies that further exacerbated Samwel’s challenges.”

Uko, who was 20 years old when he passed away, was denied twice from the hospital on May 21 after trying to seek mental health supports. His body was later recovered from Wascana Lake.

Reiter adds his apology

Saskatchewan’s Health Minister also offered his apology and condolences to the family of Samwel Uko.

Jim Reiter called the events that eventually led to Uko’s death a series of breakdown in processes that shouldn’t have happened.

“They’re taking, I believe, every action they can to rectify — to make it doesn’t happen again and (we) have reached out and met with the family as well.”

Reiter says Uko’s first visit to the hospital that day was managed much better than the second.

“There’s no excuse for it,” Reiter said bluntly. “That’s why the apology was issued, and that’s why the actions that have been taken have been taken and we need to do everything that we can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Reiter adds the SHA has committed to a quality improvement plan that will see changes to several key areas of the healthcare system, hopefully for the better.

Those areas include registration and triage processes, information sharing with partner organizations, coordination of mental health supports within emergency departments and COVID-19 screening and visitation protocols.

Opposition party responds

Following the SHA’ public apology, Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili called on Premier Scott Moe and Health Minister Jim Reiter to reach out to the Uko family and take proper action to prevent a similar situation from happening to anyone else.

In an emailed release, Meili said leaders need to take responsibility.

“The Saskatchewan Health Authority’s overdue apology comes at the same time as Tristen Durocher is walking from La Ronge to Regina protesting the government’s lack of action on the suicide crisis, an ongoing overdose crisis is claiming more lives every week, and the average wait time for emergency mental health support is thirteen hours in Regina and Saskatoon,” stated Meili.

“Less than a month ago, the premier, the health minister and the entire Saskatchewan Party government voted against the NDP’s bill for a provincial suicide strategy. It was a mistake that shows this government, time and again, is more focused on politics than on people.”

The official opposition hopes the coroner’s investigation will bring some closure for Uko’s family.

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