Life / Health

Nunavut coroner's inquest says baby's death highlights problems

IQALUIT, Nunavut — An Arctic politician says he'll keep pushing for change in light of a coroner's inquest that recommends significant reforms to health care in Nunavut following the death of an infant in a remote hamlet.

"We have to continue pushing forward from where things are at," David Joanasie, the territorial MLA for South Baffin, said Monday.

Two of Joanasie's constituents are the parents of baby Makibi Timilak, who died in the community of Cape Dorset in murky circumstances. Late Friday, a coroner's jury made seven recommendations to help prevent a similar death.

"Baby Makibi was a healthy, well-taken-care-of and well-loved child," a two-page report reads.

On the night of April 4, 2012, Makibi's mother called the health centre in Cape Dorset to say her three-month-old baby wouldn't settle down and go to sleep. She was advised to bathe Makibi and bring him in the next morning.

Several hours later, he was rushed unconscious to the health centre where he could not be revived.

The jury found the cause of Makibi's death couldn't be determined.

They recommended that a doctor be stationed in each of the territory's 25 communities.

They also said every post-mortem examination of a child younger than five years should be independently reviewed. Joanasie said that's done in some other provinces.

The report also said the Health Department's current policy should be enforced — all phone calls about infants under the age of one should be seen in the clinic as a priority. Nurses should also receive cultural education and orientation when they arrive in one of the territory's communities.

Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes said the government will consider the report.

"The Department of Health will review the jury’s findings, and will work on the recommendations to support the family, the community of Cape Dorset and Nunavummiut," Hickes said in an email.

The infant's fate was the subject of a previous independent review, which found the on-duty nurse mishandled the mother's original call. It also said health-centre staff and department officials glossed over Makibi's death and seemed more concerned about protecting themselves than fixing problems.

It concluded that long before Makibi died, Cape Dorset's health centre was a troubled workplace where bullying prevented concerns from being voiced.

The review also warned that problems at Cape Dorset's health centre could be widespread and spoke of a "culture of fear" within the Nunavut government.

Joanasie, who spoke to Makibi's parents after the verdict, said they feel the inquest helped, but they still have some questions.

"It's hard for them to understand how things unfolded."

Joanasie said he will continue to press the Nunavut government to implement the jury's recommendations.

"They're very broad in nature," he said. "They would definitely help to prevent another baby from dying."

Some, however, may be difficult to put in place.

Nunavut has historically had difficulty finding nurses to work in its remote, fly-in communities. Doctors aren't likely to be any easier to recruit.

Nunavut Health is currently offering long- and short-term positions for doctors on its website.

The territory pays doctors on short-term contracts up to $1,500 a day. Long-term physicians can be reimbursed for expenses setting up a practice and for their housing costs. They also benefit from extra pay due to remoteness and receive two months of holidays.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter.