Mother of inmate who died in custody at Edmonton Remand Centre reacts to public report

A day after Alberta’s Public Interest Commissioner released a public report on the wrongdoings in correctional facilities, the mother of an inmate who died in custody in 2021 says the report is “enraging and validating”.

Less than a week after Alberta’s Public Interest Commissioner released a public report on the wrongdoings in correctional facilities, the mother of an inmate who died in custody in 2021 says the report is “enraging” and “validating”.

The report, released on October 25, examined the medical records and treatment history of seven people who had “severe medical outcomes” because of “inadequate care” provided by medical staff in the Edmonton Remand Centre, according to a whistleblower.

READ MORE: Health-care standards not met at Edmonton Remand Centre, report finds

“These significant lapses in the standard of care demonstrated a substantial and significant danger to the life, health, and safety of patients,” said the investigation report from Kevin Brezinski.

Lana Greene, whose son Timothy James McConnell died by suicide while in custody in the Remand Centre says the conditions are “inhumane”.

“It’s absolutely horrific they’ve been allowed to treat anybody this way”, Greene said.

Greene is unsure if the report touches on her son’s death, as it does not include names or identifying information. But she says it’s important these issues come to light and that people are held accountable for the way they behave and treat those in custody.

McConnell, who went by T.J., was brought to the Edmonton Remand Centre on a theft charge on September 4, 2020. The 23-year-old father of one suffered from bipolar disorder and an opioid addiction, Greene telling CityNews he began asking for mental health and addictions support shortly after incarceration.  Help Greene says he was still waiting on when he was found dead in a solitary cell on January 11, 2021.

Greene has been advocating for better access to mental health supports in the correctional system for years and says it’s a relief to see someone in a position of power come forward. 

“It’s validating because it’s exactly what I’ve been saying since the moment my son passed away in that facility,” Green told CityNews on Thursday.

Greene says her son was put in an impossible situation and was reaching out for help that was never provided. 

“We have multiple forms where he was begging to see a psychologist, to get medication,” Greene said.  “He even stated on there he was surrounded by the very drugs he was trying to get away from in their facility and begging for drugs to not crave them because he doesn’t want that life anymore.”

McConnell was awaiting a trial date and Greene says he was innocent until proven guilty and that everyone in the Remand Centre deserves better care.  She tells City News her son called her almost every day until she says he became too depressed to leave his cell.

“My son was locked in solitary confinement for 23.5 hours per day and only allowed out of the room for 15 minutes twice a day,” Greene said.  “He became so depressed he didn’t even come out for those 15-minute breaks and they claim they didn’t know he was struggling.”

She says there needs to be more education and a better understanding of mental illness and treatment for addictions.

The president of the Canadian Prison Law Association and criminal defense lawyer Tom Engel also says the report is validating. 

Engel says he wants to see Alberta Health Services take “effective action” and says people need to be “vigilant” about bringing about change.  He says this report empowers families of current inmates and lays the groundwork for future complaints to be taken seriously.  Engel alleges this report barely skims the surface and that this is part of a much broader crisis.

He says he gets hundreds of letters and phone calls from clients and other lawyers about the quality of care in correctional facilities.

READ MORE: Paramedic speaks out against Edmonton Remand Centre eliminating his job

“It’s as the public interest commissioner indicated, it’s a systemic problem in Alberta corrections,” Engel said. “It shows that what we’ve been hearing from Alberta Health Services – Correctional Health about the standard of care in the jails have simply been lies,” Engel said.

He says all the complaints he’s filed over the years have been ignored.

“When I saw [the report] I was elated to see this. Now we have to build on this because I don’t trust Alberta Health Services to actually take effective action,” Engel said.

Engel says it’s the ethical duty of every healthcare practitioner to advocate for the proper care of their patients and he says that “never happened in jails”.

READ MORE: Why are people dying in jail while waiting for a trial?

He says the report will act as concrete evidence and will be a powerful tool prison lawyers and defence lawyers can point to in the future when it comes to bail hearings and requests for better care in correctional facilities.

Engel says defence lawyers hear about this issue constantly and says it’s a problem in all correctional facilities.  “It’s not just the Edmonton Remand Centre.  The Calgary Remand Centre is another bad one,” Engel said.

“I would love to be able to do something about every problem like this for every person who calls, but we just can’t do that – we can’t keep up with it.  I hope other lawyers will feel empowered with this and do something about it as well,” Engel said.

Engel says when the commissioner finds out there is inadequate medical care that caused the death of a prisoner, that’s a crime.

“The crime is failure to provide necessaries of life and as the president of the Canadian Prison Law Association, we’re going to be looking at making criminal complaints arising out of this,” Engel said.

The report says the whistleblower came to the Public Interest Commissioner, Kevin Brezinski, concerned for the health and safety of people in custody.  The whistleblower alleged medical staff were failing to provide emergency medical care to patients who were in distress, identifying seven people – two of which died and four who required hospitalization.

Brezinski states in the report that five of the individuals identified did not get proper care from medical staff – including not reassessing emerging symptoms of four patients – relating to pain, shortness of breath, abnormal vital signs, or high temperature.

The report also says medical staff did not properly manage the pain of two people and didn’t properly report the vital signs of three patients with abnormal blood pressure.

It also says it took two days for medical staff to begin treatment on a person whose toe was black and swollen with fluid.

The part that stands out to Greene is that the medical staff did not properly implement withdrawal protocols for two patients – failing to meet the necessary standard of care.

“These significant lapses in standard of care demonstrated a substantial and specific danger to the life, health, and safety of patients who received treatment at the correctional centre. This was serious and significant wrongdoing,” Brezinski wrote.

Brezinski also concluded that based on the lack of clarity surrounding institutional protocols he did not view the wrongdoing as being solely the responsibility of any particular individual.  He said that based on his review of the circumstances of the seven people identified, there were “systemic lapses” in the medical care of incarcerated individuals at the correctional centre.  

In a statement, a spokesperson for Alberta Health Services says, “AHS has taken action to directly address each of the recommendations included in the report.” 

They say that includes implementing new policies and required practices to monitor and record vital signs, as well as new protocols to manage both drug and/or alcohol withdrawal, pain management, and wound care. Twice-yearly audits will also be added, and they say they have hired a new Nursing Professional Practice Consultant for Correctional Health Services to continue to ensure up-to-date policies and practices are in place, and that practice standards are continually reviewed, communicated, and reassessed.

“It is imperative that all individuals in our corrections system are provided with the same consistent, high-quality care as every Albertan.  Our actions will continue to ensure this,” the spokesperson said.

Alberta’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis said in a statement he appreciates the careful investigation that went into the report.  Ellis expressed his sympathies to everyone impacted by the health care concerns at the Remand Centre and said everyone deserves access to consistent, high-quality health care when they need it.

Ellis says the province will continue to work closely with AHS within Alberta’s correctional facilities to support correctional health services to meet the needs of patients. 

Greene says she would love to connect with other families experiencing what she went through to provide support to one another, saying there is “power in numbers. Stay strong, know you’re not alone,” Greene said. 

-With files from Carly Robinson and the Canadian Press.

Full report: Here

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