YELLOWKNIFE — The Northwest Territories has promised an independent investigation into the death of an aboriginal elder assumed to be drunk when he was suffering from a stroke.
"I am deeply troubled by the comments that the care provided in a particular situation was not appropriate,'' said Health Minister Glen Abernethy in a release on the death of Hugh Papik.
"The serious nature of certain concerns expressed in the media warrant a comprehensive external investigation.''
Papik, a 67-year-old Inuvialuit man from Aklavik in the northwest corner of the territory, suffered the stroke Aug. 3.
Niece called to pick Papik up
His niece Maggie Papik said she found out about what happened when staff at the elder's home called her.
"They just phoned and said I had to go to him because he was drunk and he was on the floor,'' Papik said Wednesday.
Papik went to her uncle's home and knew right away something was wrong.
"I knew he was having a stroke just looking at him. There's signs that people don't understand.''
Her uncle knew it, too.
"I knew he was having a stroke just looking at him."
"He told me that he wasn't drunk, because that was the first thing that they told me, that he was drunk. He was yelling at me, saying he wasn't drunk.''
Staff didn't perform a physical
Papik got her uncle to the local health centre. She said staff didn't perform a physical exam, despite her uncle having heart trouble and no history of drinking.
"They know his history,'' she said. "We've been living in Aklavik all our lives. Every time he has a chest pain we rush him in and they do a physical.
"This time, they never did a physical. That's all I want to know. Why they never did a physical? Why they go on believing he was drunk?
"That's all I want to know. Why they never did a physical? Why they go on believing he was drunk?"
"Even if you're drunk, you still have to get a physical. It doesn't matter.''
Papik declared brain dead in Yellowknife
By the time Papik convinced medical staff to fly her uncle to hospital in Yellowknife, it was too late. He was eventually declared brain dead.
The family removed him from life support last week. Papik is arranging to have her uncle's body returned home for a funeral.
"I was looking after him for 16 years,'' his niece said.
"He was a happy-go-lucky person, always joking, always laughing. He never liked to see anybody sad and down and out. He'd probably give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.''
Since going public with her story, Papik said many others have called her with similar concerns.
"He was a happy-go-lucky person, always joking, always laughing."
"There's lots of other elders that are being mistaken for a lot of stuff. I have received so many phone calls. I heard so many stories of so many people being mistreated.
"There has to be an inquiry.''
Abernethy said the terms of the investigation are being developed.
The government of Nunavut is holding an inquiry of its own into health care at a remote nursing station. Officials are looking into the death of an infant under the care of a nursing station in Gjoa Haven.
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton