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University professor suing HSN over alleged mistreatment

Tasha Beeds, the Ron Ianni Scholar in the University of Windsor’s Indigenous Legal Order Institute, wants to know why, after being taken by ambulance to the Sudbury hospital in March 2020 with COVID-19 symptoms and a lingering brain injury, she wound up unconscious on the floor in her own vomit and feces, and in police custody
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Tasha Beeds is the Ron Ianni Scholar at the Indigenous Legal Orders Institute at the University of Windsor and lectures at the University of Saskatchewan. She was also an Indigenous Studies professor at the former University of Sudbury. (Heidi Ulrichsen/Sudbury.com)

A former Indigenous studies professor at the University of Sudbury, Tasha Beeds, is alleging she was not only mistreated and racially profiled at Health Sciences North two years ago, but was also detained by Greater Sudbury Police because hospital staff assumed she was intoxicated.

Beeds has filed a lawsuit against Health Sciences North, the Greater Sudbury Police Services Board, as well as the attending physician, Dr. Nicholas Fortino. These claims have not been proven in court, and all parties deny the allegations entirely.

Beeds, of nêhiyaw, Scottish-Métis, and Bajan ancestry, said she was treated “horribly” while in distress at Health Sciences North in March of 2020, just as the pandemic hit. 

Beeds is currently the Ron Ianni Scholar at the Indigenous Legal Orders Institute at the University of Windsor and lectures at the University of Saskatchewan. She was also an Indigenous Studies professor at the former University of Sudbury. 

She told Sudbury.com not only does she feel that she was assumed to be intoxicated because she is a person of colour, but more than that, she said she — or anyone else — shouldn’t have been treated as she was even if she had been intoxicated.

What happened

On March 10, 2020, Beeds told Sudbury.com she had participated in a conference and had seen about 2,000 people that day. When she felt ill, she decided to go home early. Her symptoms included vomiting, headache and fever, which Beeds worried were symptoms of the encroaching COVID-19.

That, and she worried about the lingering effects of a traumatic brain injury with which she was diagnosed after a car accident two years earlier, and how that condition could be exacerbated by the flu-like illness she had contracted. 

That worry, mixed with fear of COVID-19, made her call Teleheath Ontario. Her symptoms in combination with her brain injury prompted the medical service to call an ambulance on her behalf.

Beeds arrived at the HSN by ambulance at 7:30 a.m. on March 11, 2020, and told Sudbury.com she informed the paramedics who attended to her that she had a brain injury and could have COVID-19. 

When they arrived at the hospital, Beeds said she was taken to the charge desk. The lawsuit claims that Beeds was transferred to a wheelchair upon arrival and placed in the laboratory area to await registration and bloodwork. She said she was not immediately assessed by anyone, and left to wait alone in an area apart from the main waiting room of the emergency department. 

“I was sitting in a chair, the ambulance had left by now,” said Beeds. “I had such severe head pain” that she recalls worrying the pain could be related to her traumatic brain injury. “I was worried, I wasn't sure what was happening, but my head was killing me.”

It isn’t unusual for paramedics to have departed once Beeds had been taken to the charge desk. Julie Ward, Greater Sudbury Paramedic Service’s acting deputy chief of paramedicine, told Sudbury.com paramedics are required to bring patients who arrive by ambulance to the charge desk. Though Ward couldn’t speak to the specifics of Beeds’ case, she said it is the standard for paramedics to check in with the charge desk and remain with the patient until a health care provider “assumes care.”

Once that happens, paramedics are free to leave, which Beeds said they did, leaving her in a wheelchair vomiting repeatedly into a garbage can as, she says, hospital staff looked on.

She said she called out to staff for help as her symptoms worsened and she began to feel more and more ill.

“I kept saying, ‘please help me, I need to lay down’ and I was still vomiting.” 

But no one came, she said.

“I could see people in the room directly across. Not sure if they were lab technicians or nurses, but there were [health-care workers].”

Desperate for help, Beeds said she tried to get up out of the chair to ask for help, but when she did, she fell unconscious. 

She isn’t sure how long she was out, but when she came to, Beeds found she had soiled herself and was laying on the floor. 

“I felt so sick, and I was so humiliated. I felt such utter humiliation,” she said.

Things take a turn

Then, told Sudbury.com, she heard laughter that she felt was directed at her.

“I am pleading again for help,” said Beeds. “And I heard the word ‘drunk’ from the staff. I heard ‘she’s looking for attention’.”

Beeds was definitely not intoxicated, she said — she has been sober for the past 12 years. That would be proven later when she was, in her mind, forced to give a blood sample that confirmed there was no alcohol in her blood. 

“But even if I was someone suffering from addictions, this is not how you treat them, you took an oath,” she said.

At this point in the interview, she began to weep as she described laying on the floor, for how long she is unsure, and hearing what she said was laughter and snide comments. Beeds, who is Black and Indigenous, said she feels staff assumed her symptoms were related to intoxication because of preconceived notions they may have about Indigenous people.

“If I was a white woman, going into that hospital with the same symptoms that I had, I don't think the hospital staff would have treated me that way.”

She also believes what would eventually happen would never have happened had she not been a person of colour — she was taken into custody by police.

“I don't think the (Health Sciences North) security would have called the police; I don't think the police would ever have apprehended me,” she said. “If I had been white, I would have been treated very, very differently.”

After she collapsed, she told Sudbury.com she tried to remain calm, but was deeply upset. So upset, in fact, she decided it would be better for her to leave HSN and seek treatment at a hospital in another community, namely Espanola or North Bay.

Still weak and laying on the floor, having vomited and soiled her pants, she said that a hospital security guard approached her and said she was causing a scene and told her she would have to leave HSN, something she had decided to do anyway.

In the court filing, Beeds said she told the guard she no longer wanted to be treated at HSN given what was occurring. The lawsuit alleges the security guard then accused her of racism for suggesting the staff was treating her differently because of Beeds’ own race. The suit further alleges the guard told her she needed “to take responsibility” for her own actions, which Beeds took to mean he, too, assumed she was intoxicated. 

Abruptly ending the conversation with the security guard, Beeds hauled herself up off the floor, with no help offered from anyone, and prepared to leave HSN.

She said she removed her soiled pants and threw them in the garbage, leaving her clad in only a nightshirt, calf-high mukluks and a long winter coat.

Still very sick, she said she told nearby hospital staff that was declining treatment and had called a friend to take her to another hospital. 

Conflicting accounts

What exactly happened next depends on who you ask.

In their statement of defense, Health Sciences North alleges Beeds was swearing and shouting at the staff while refusing medical assistance. They claim she left the emergency room, against the advice of the nurse “without any clothing from the waist down” (because, remember, she had lost consciousness and soiled herself). 

The Greater Sudbury Police Services Board, in its statement of defence, claims Beeds was acting in an disorderly manner, was showing a “lack of competence to care for herself,” and that to the officers, she appeared to be suffering from “a mental disorder of a nature or quality that would likely result in serious bodily harm given her apparent mental and physical state, state of dress, and weather conditions if she was not taken into custody for an examination by a physician.”

Beeds disputes this. She said despite having thrown her soiled pants away, was wearing a nightshirt, a long coat and high boots. She said she was well-covered, and while upset, Beeds said she remained as calm as possible as she expressed her desire to seek care elsewhere. She told staff a friend who lived in Lively was on his way to pick her up, and she would be heading to Espanola or North Bay to seek the help she felt she needed.

Beeds left the hospital and was sitting on the curb outside crying and waiting for her friend when, to her surprise, she was approached by two Greater Sudbury Police officers.

The officers spoke to her for less than two minutes, Beeds told Sudbury.com, encouraging her to go back inside the hospital. She declined, explaining she felt she was being mistreated because of her race. The lawsuit alleges one of the officers told her her claims of racism were “just noise,” and warned her that if she did not re-enter voluntarily, she would be apprehended under the Mental Health Act. Beeds told Sudbury.com she was afraid of the officers, and tried to explain once again why she was declining care and was in her current state of dress. 

Unmoved, the officers informed she was being detained. 

The officers walked her back into the hospital, she said, and led her to a room, then stood at the door with their backs to her, seemingly to prevent her from leaving. Beeds, who still had her cellphone, contacted her mother and then made a post on Facebook describing her ordeal at HSN. She alleges the officers took her phone from her after that.

At 9:45 a.m., more than two hours after her arrival, Beeds was finally seen by a doctor. In the statement of defence offered by HSN and Dr. Nicholas Fortino, it is stated Beeds was examined by Fortino and was prescribed saline for dehydration, Toradol (for pain), Zofran (an anti-nauseant), and Haloperidol, an antipsychotic. He also ordered blood tests. She declined the medication and the blood tests as she said she no longer wanted to be cared for at HSN. 

Beeds said she eventually acquiesced to the blood test (which turned out to be checking her blood-alcohol level). The results of the test, which she obtained, showed she was sober. 

Once the blood test showed she was not intoxicated, Beeds wasn’t forced to take any of the medication she said Fortino prescribed.

In fact, once the blood test results were in, she was released by the doctor and the police officers told her she was free to go. 

Beeds said the ordeal has left her utterly traumatized. It also left her resolved to act.

She said when she shared her experience with other members of the region’s Indigenous community, they in turn shared similar stories with her about alleged racial profiling at Health Sciences North.

As a university professor with some degree of public profile, as a professional and an academic, Beeds said she is in a better position than many others to call attention to what happened, not only through the lawsuit but also through the press.

“If I share the story, publicly, maybe others will feel emboldened to step forward with their stories,” said Beeds. “Because mine isn't an isolated incident at the hospital here in Sudbury. It's definitely not an isolated incident.” 

None of the allegations have been proven in court. In response to the lawsuit, Sudbury.com reached out to the involved parties. All declined to comment as the matter is before the courts. 

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com. She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized, including the Black, Indigenous, newcomer and Francophone communities, as well as 2SLGBTQ+ and issues of the downtown core.