Senior's death at Cowichan hospital under investigation

Gordon Kriese. - submitted
Gordon Kriese.
— image credit: submitted

Laura Chafe suspected something was tragically wrong about the July 10 death of her father at Cowichan District Hospital.

A week after Gordon Herman Kriese, 82, died — following a July 3 altercation with another CDH patient — the police and Island Health began probing Chafe's claims her dad's death may have been hastened by the fracas acknowledged by Island Health brass.

The B.C. Corner's investigation into Kriese's death began July 25.

"An incident between two patients at Cowichan District Hospital occurred on July 3, witnessed by staff," Island Health's Sarah Plank says in an email.

"It was quickly diffused by staff, and appropriate medical treatment was provided. Both families were contacted immediately."

But Chafe's claims the altercation may have quickened Kriese's death weren't initially voiced to Island Health, but to the News Leader Pictorial.

The Leader called the B.C. Coroner's office — where officials had no knowledge of Kriese's death — and lsland Health.

"The individual that you spoke (Chafe) with did not contact us to inform us of her concerns and allegations," Island Health's Val Wilson's email to the Leader says.

"We had no knowledge of her concerns and these very serious allegations until contacted by media (July 17.)

"After learning of these allegations, we immediately contacted the family member, and encouraged her to call our patient-care quality office so we can ensure her concerns are reviewed and addressed, however, she declined," Wilson says.

Given the seriousness of her allegations, Island Health contacted police in Duncan to report the claims, Wilson explains.

Island Health requested police investigate the family's assertions the incident at CDH was potentially criminal in nature, Plank states.

"We had not seen the incident in that light and immediately sought the independent expertise of the police.

"Island Health is currently conducting an internal review and cooperating with the RCMP in their investigation. We understand the coroner is also investigating."

But Mounties indicate they weren't immediately notified by hospital staff of the altercation, nor of Kriese's eventual demise, until eight days after he died and his family began asking questions about his death.

"Our office did receive a report from CDH on July 18 stating they were in contact with a patient's family member who believed there may be criminal behaviour involved in their father's death, which occurred at CHD on July 10," an email to the News Leader Pictorial from North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP Cpl. Krista Hobday says.

"We immediately opened an operational file and are actively conducting an investigation, in conjunction with the Corner's office regarding this incident."

The week-long gap between Kriese's death and investigation starting also included CDH's failure to notify the coroner's office, lsland Health officials now admit.

"Regarding coroner notification, it is not a normal process to notify the coroner in the death of a palliative patient," Plank's statement says.

"After a discussion with the coroner's office, we recognize in this case we should have contacted them.

"We will be working with the coroner's office to provide education to staff at CDH to ensure better awareness of reporting requirements."

Coroner Barb McLintock told the Leader Wednesday her office was called by Chafe July 25, and the coroner has launched a full investigation into Kriese's death as if it had been reported right after he died.

"We have requested (Kriese's) records from Island Health," she said, noting police will decide if his death was suspicious, and the coroner will decide if more investigation is needed.

"The family has suggested there's more to this story than meets the eye," said McLintock, "but I can't prejudice our findings."

Those findings could shed light on what, if any, injuries Kriese suffered during the altercation at CDH, and what role those injuries played in his death, she explained.

Privacy laws prevent lsland Health officials from discussing specifics of Kriese's case, Plank explains, noting patient and staff safety are priority one.

"Island Health has zero tolerance for violence of any kind against or by patients in our care, by staff or by visitors, and we take all concerns reported to us extremely seriously," Island Health's Wilson told the Leader.

The coroner's office also takes safety issues seriously, indicated McLintock, noting her office can make safety recommendations — in the wake of investigating Kriese's death — "to prevent future deaths in similar circumstances."

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