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Echaquan’s inquest

BY Will Nicholls Jun 5, 2021

Joyce Echaqaun died September 28, 2020, in a Joliette hospital. Before dying she recorded and shared a video on social media of the treatment (or lack of it) she was receiving from the hospital staff. The video outraged people around the world as they watched and heard staff calling her stupid, a drain on the system and better off dead. 

As horrible as this was at the coroner’s inquest examining the circumstances of her death, we’ve learned that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Annie Desroches, who was Echaquan’s hospital roommate, testified that Echaquan was treated inhumanely for hours before she died. Desroches said staff ignored cries for help, scolded her for crying out in pain and mocked her throughout the morning. 

“The people who were supposed to help her and comfort her that day let her die instead,” Desroches said. The next day she wrote 10 pages of what she had witnesses and shared it with police investigators. No charges were laid, however.

Desroches said one nurse told Echaquan that they “would shoot her up so she can sleep like a normal person.” When Echaquan continued to move because of the pain and fell to the floor, she was accused of falling on purpose. Echaquan asked to be restrained so she wouldn’t fall out of bed, but the staff refused.

Nurses laughed at her and said she was acting like a baby. “It went on for an eternity,” Desroches testified. “It was not normal. She was crying out, ‘You are letting me die.’” Even a request for some juice to settle her stomach was refused.

When Echaquan was brought to the resuscitation unit there were some problems that led to an 11-minute delay before trying to revive her. She died 45 minutes later.

Josiane Ulrich, another patient, told investigators she heard one of the hospital staff say, “Good, finally we’ll have some peace, she’s dead.”

Echaquan’s primary nurse was in fact a nursing candidate who should have had a full-time supervisor to oversee her as outlined in the Quebec Nurses Act. A nurse testifying said that with staffing shortages nursing candidates are routinely assigned the same tasks that are by law required to be carried out by qualified nursing staff. As a result, candidates don’t have professionals to rely on for advice.

Some nurses have denied making statements that were overheard by other patients and visitors. Quebec Coroner Gehne Kamel said her job is to find out what happened and to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. She said trying to achieve that was difficult given the “evasive and opaque answers” received from certain witnesses.

One of the nurses in the video apologized to Echaquan’s family for her comments and said it was a result of being overworked, thinking about the paperwork she would have to do and that “no one cares that we can never even have a break.” Kamel stopped her and said being overworked was not an excuse, especially when this type of situation was happening in front of them. 

“There is a woman dying in front of you – because that is what is happening,” Kamel replied. “And you’re telling me you’re thinking about your break and your incident report?”

Carol Dubé, Echaquan’s husband, is frustrated at the lack of accountability and said listening to the testimony has been grueling for him. Still, he hopes the inquest will improve Quebec’s health system.

The family’s lawyer said Echaquan’s video by itself shows the issues of racism and prejudice present at the Joliette Hospital and that is something that we can all agree upon. It only remains to be seen what the result will be of the inquest. Sadly, if the past is anything we have learned from, it won’t be much.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.