Early on the morning of Thursday, February 28, Tasmina Akter and Mohammad Hossain arrived at Stanton Territorial Hospital with concerns about their unborn child.
The expectant mother had not felt her baby move since Wednesday lunchtime, she told staff at the Yellowknife hospital.
Staff checked the baby’s heartbeat and found it to be normal, Hossain recalled, but they could not say for certain all was well without conducting a further ultrasound scan.
However, Hossain said, staff told them no such scan could be completed until Thursday afternoon. At 10am, staff asked the couple to return later.
When they did return on Thursday afternoon, the scan delivered the worst news. “Within two minutes,” Hossain said, “[the ultrasound technician] was saying it did not seem good.”
The baby was declared dead at 2pm.
Akter and Hossain believe the four-hour delay experienced in seeing an ultrasound technician, also known as a sonographer, could have been the difference between their child’s life and death.
“I lost my baby. Who is responsible?” Hossain asked.
“If they ignore people like that and people lose their lives, how long are they going to keep doing this?”
Akter and Hossain’s complaint focuses on their inability to access staff capable of performing an ultrasound scan on Thursday morning.
The Government of the Northwest Territories has spent years trying to find people to work as sonographers in the NWT.
An advertisement for indeterminate, term, and casual positions as a sonographer at Stanton Hospital, listed as “open until filled,” offers to pay up to $104,000 to candidates who join the hospital’s team.
When contacted by Cabin Radio regarding this case, a Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson said the territory struggles to recruit for the position – which performs a range of other duties alongside the kind of ultrasound scan that would have been appropriate in this instance.
“We currently have 2.5 vacant full-time sonography positions, and have been actively working to fill these positions for many years,” Damien Healy, a department spokesperson, wrote by email.
“This has included multiple job competitions and recruitment campaigns,” he said.
However, the department – which declined to comment on this specific case – said that despite those vacancies, there was no shortage in staffing and nothing unusual about the hospital’s ultrasound services on Thursday morning.
Sonography in some form at the hospital is usually provided from 7:30am until 4pm, Monday to Friday.
Healy said such services “are typically fully booked, however urgent or emergency cases are accommodated.”
As the department declined to address the specific case, Cabin Radio was not able to speak to the healthcare workers involved.
Ultrasound is commonly used to confirm a diagnosis of stillbirth, and can also be used to identify complications involving the placenta or umbilical cord.
‘They should not wait’
Hossain found the department’s response hard to understand, as he felt his child’s condition must have been considered an urgent or emergency case – and so should not have warranted a four-hour delay before a scan could take place.
“At 10 o’clock they said everything was normal [with the baby’s heartbeat] but nobody was available to do the ultrasound until the afternoon. If you have someone in this place, how come they didn’t do it right away?” He asked.
“Why would you have to wait four hours? There was no movement, they should not wait. They should do that right away. Why did this happen? Where was the gap? If they did their proper things, I could have my baby in my hands, alive.
“They are spending lots of money to build another hospital when they cannot provide this kind of service to people. How can we put our faith in them?”
Three days after the baby was declared dead, Akter gave birth via induced labour. A funeral for the child was held on Sunday.
Hossain said staff have been unable to provide him with a cause of his child’s death. He has been advised that tests are being carried out to determine this.
He does not wish to blame hospital staff, he stressed, but wants answers about the delay he believes may have killed his child.
“I am not blaming anyone. If it is their system, they need a new system. I just want justice,” he said.
“I don’t know who to talk to and who is the right person to talk to. I’m not in good condition and my wife, even yesterday, she went through complications with the birth.
“How could they act [on Thursday morning] like everything is all right? I did not get that answer. I don’t want any other parent to go through the same scenario like me.”