Hospital to keep review about baby wrongly pronounced dead a secret
Published Wednesday, April 10, 2013 9:18AM EDT
An investigation into why a newborn baby was mistakenly pronounced dead outside a Toronto area hospital last winter is now complete, but the public may never learn all the details about what went wrong that day.
That’s because the investigation was conducted under legislation that allows the hospital to keep certain findings under wraps.
But many are angry and say the public has a right to know what happened.
The incident involved a 20-year-old woman who went into labour in February and tried to walk to the Humber River Regional Hospital. She didn’t make it, and delivered the baby on the sidewalk in temperatures of about -15 Celsius. EMS personnel rushed the mother and child to hospital but the baby was pronounced dead.
But about 90 minutes later, police officers waiting for the coroner to arrive noticed the baby was moving under the sheet. The baby was rushed into care and released from hospital a few weeks later, alive.
Doctors not involved in the case say it was likely the baby developed severe hypothermia during the birth, which had made detecting its vital signs difficult.
Why the mistake occurred still hasn’t been made clear. The hospital said last week that while a “thorough” investigation was conducted, the precise findings are protected under provincial legislation, called the Quality of Care Information Protection Act.
That has had many observers angry, with some calling the legislation a “secrecy loophole” that allows the hospital to avoid accountability.
But the president of the Ontario Hospital Association sees things differently.
Pat Campbell told CTV’s Canada AM that the Quality of Care Information Protection Act is meant to allow investigations into such incidents to take place “in an environment that would encourage full disclosure and encourage open dialogue about what had happened.”
She said investigators need those who appear before them to explain what happened to be able to feel they can discuss the incident openly, without fears of liability.
“It’s a little bit similar to whistleblower protections, if you want to think about it that way,” Campbell said.
What makes this case complicated, Campbell says, is that the patient has asked the hospital to keep her identity secret and to refrain from any public commentary on the incident.
“In this case, we know the patient doesn’t want that particulars of their situation to be discussed publicly,” she said.
Campbell said the patient has a right to confidentiality and privacy, which limits what the hospital can say. So it’s had to find a balance between the patient’s rights and the rights of the public.
“What happens in these cases is you get an interplay of responsibilities that hospitals have around patient confidentiality and the responsibilities they have about the Quality of Care Information Protection Act. And that becomes a complicated picture,” Campbell said.
The patient and her family were informed about what happened that day and what steps the hospital is taking to avoid future similar incidents, Campbell says, even though they may not have been told of all the conversations that were held as part of the investigation.
Campbell says she’s been told the family is comfortable they have all the information they need, which she says is one of the aims of these investigations.
“Patients certainly have a right to know what happened to them and what the implications of what happened to them to their own treatment plan,” Campbell said. “And they have the right to know what kinds of steps the hospital is taking to ensure protections are being put into place for the future -- what systemic changes, what other investigations are going on.”
Campbell said there still are other processes that ensure accountability of those involved that go beyond the main investigation. The hospital still has, for example, the ability to hand down disciplinary action if deemed appropriate.