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Health minister vows to fight 'systemic racism'
Aklavik elder Hugh Papik misdiagnosed as drunk, later died of stroke

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Monday, March 6, 2017

The NWT's health minister says a recently completed report into the death Aklavik elder Hugh Papik will help the government address systemic racism in the territories' health-care system.

NNSL photo/graphic

A report into the August 2016 death of Aklavik resident Hugh Papik is now complete. - Facebook photo

The report by Manitoba physician Marlyn Cook of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which will not be made public, examines decisions made by elders' home staff and health-care workers prior to Papik's death in August of last year.

The 67-year-old man died after suffering a stroke. Media reports revealed that staff at the elder's home in Aklavik where Papik lived as well as health-care professionals at the Aklavik Health Centre misdiagnosed Papik and claimed he was merely intoxicated.

The man's niece Maggie Papik told one news outlet that she received a call from staff at the elders' home, telling her he was drunk.

When she arrived at the home she found her uncle on the floor and said she knew he had a stroke. Maggie said he repeatedly told her that he was not drunk.

She took him to the health centre where he was again dismissed as being intoxicated. He was eventually medevaced to Inuvik and then flown to Yellowknife where he was declared brain dead. That led to at least one indigenous rights activist to accuse health workers in Aklavik of being racist.

Initially, a health department spokesperson said that health-care workers there had done nothing wrong and there would be no investigation. But when Abernethy caught wind of the story, he ordered a review.

Abernethy said Dr. Cook identified systemic racism in the NWT health-care system, something Abernethy agrees exists. He added some of the report's 16 recommendations, which were made public, are aimed at making sure indigenous people are treated the same as non-indigenous people in the territory.

"We have a system that does have systemic racism and we need to do more to combat that and get it out of our system," said Abernethy.

"(Some report recommendations) talk about the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations and ... doing things around cultural safety and bringing in and incorporating traditional practices and treatment methods and working with elders - really engaging the indigenous people in the NWT to be part of the solutions."

Some of the key recommendations include: mandatory cultural training for all health-care workers to address racism within the system; reviewing nursing guidelines as they relate to strokes; and that the GNWT establish stroke protocols, including directly transporting stroke victims to Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife.

Abernethy told the legislative assembly Feb. 23 there is no firm timetable for implementing the recommendations.

He said he travelled to Aklavik to share the report with Papik's family, adding no formal complaint about the lack of care Papik received has ever been filed.

Abernethy said he is not at liberty to discuss whether any disciplinary action was taken against the health-care workers in Aklavik who misdiagnosed Papik.

Indigenous rights activist and Papik's childhood friend, Rosemarie Kuptana said she was horrified to hear how her friend died.

"Did they just assume that he was drunk and was this a dereliction of duty along with racism?" Kuptana asked.

"And if that is the case, then perhaps there should be a criminal investigation, at least to determine whether this, in fact, is a homicide.

"I cried and cried and cried. Why should somebody go through that much pain? He should have died with dignity surrounded by family. He didn't need to die, actually."

Another of Papik's nieces, Stephanie Papik, said she is encouraged by the recommendations providing they are acted upon. She said she wants her uncle's death to put an end to racism in the territory's health care system.

"But I was kind of disheartened to hear the minister say they would implement (the recommendations) where there was justification and adequate resources.

"The justification was there already," she said.

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