Patient 'discriminated' for being Maori and a skater

By Lee Scanlon

Jeremy Awatere required urgent facial surgery in Christchurch Hospital. Photo / Supplied
Jeremy Awatere required urgent facial surgery in Christchurch Hospital. Photo / Supplied

A mother says a hospital discriminated against her injured son because he is Maori and a skateboarder.

Maree Awatere said the Grey Base Hospital's emergency department (ED) sent her son, Jeremy Awatere, home with fractured facial bones, saying they would probably heal by themselves.

Mr Awatere later required urgent surgery at Christchurch Hospital.

"If that had been my granddaughter, pretty little girl, 13, with long blond hair, I bet we wouldn't have been treated as we were ... " said Mrs Awatere.

West Coast DHB acting CEO Mary Gordon said the suggestion that this patient was discriminated against because of he is Maori and the fact that he skateboards is outrageous.

"Everyone is treated equally and the only thing we judge is the seriousness of each patient's condition as they come into the emergency department.

West Coast DHB staff are professionals - the staff who cared for this patient are affronted by this baseless allegation," Ms Gordon said.

Maree Awatere said the hospital sent her son, Jeremy Awatere, home with fractured facial bones. Photo / Supplied
Maree Awatere said the hospital sent her son, Jeremy Awatere, home with fractured facial bones. Photo / Supplied

"He's Maori, and he's a skater, and he didn't perform [complain]." The 23-year-old fish filleter fell on his face while he was skateboarding alone at the Greymouth Skatepark at about 4pm on December 28. A worker at nearby Smiths City took him to the hospital.

His mother and his sister, Jo, arrived at the ED soon afterwards.

"The blood was pouring into his T-shirt, the skin was all grazed and burned down one side of his face ... " Mrs Awatere said. "All one side of his face was flat." Mrs Awatere said staff gave her son two paracetamol, then asked him questions such as, "Do you want to give up smoking?" "He's looking at me like, Mum are they mad?" Quit smoking information later arrived in the mail, incorrectly addressed to her other son, she said.

A scan of Jeremy Awatere's face. Photo / Supplied
A scan of Jeremy Awatere's face. Photo / Supplied

A nurse cleaned Mr Awatere's injuries but no ice pack was provided. His sister had to use damp paper towels to mop up the blood while they waited for a doctor, Mrs Awatere said.

At about 6pm, a nurse asked whether his second lot of pain relief was working.

Mrs Awatere said she responded: "What second lot?" The nurse disappeared and didn't return, she said.

When a doctor finally turned up, his attitude was: "He's a Maori boy, he's fallen off a skateboard," she said.

She said her son clearly had broken bones in his face, but the doctor replied: "Nobody's face is the same both sides."

"I said, 'I know my son's face, he's done something to his face'." She believes her son would not have had an x-ray if another injured patient hadn't turned up.

ED only called in a radiographer after an elderly woman who had had a fall arrived by ambulance, Mrs Awatere said. Five staff rushed into the woman's room, she said.

"It was a totally different atmosphere ... When they'd x-rayed her arm the radiographer came and said, 'Do you want his face x-rayed?"' Two other patients arrived, were treated, and left, while they were still waiting, she said. In three-and-a- half hours the ED treated five patients, including her son.

After Mr Awatere's x-ray, about 7pm, the doctor confirmed the bones were broken and told them the x-rays would be reviewed at Christchurch Hospital. "He said 'We usually don't do anything about that anyway, it usually heals itself ... like ribs do'," Mrs Awatere said.

"I said 'my son will not go through life with his face like this. My son's face will be fixed'." She asked what would be done for the cut above his eye. The doctor told the nurse to glue it, then left, she said.

They were sent home with a card of paracetamol and ibuprofen and some ointment to stop the grazes becoming infected.

She immediately put ice on her son's face. "He said 'oh, the relief mum'." More than a week later, on January 4, she received a call from Christchurch Hospital asking if Mr Awatere could be there by 7am the next day for urgent facial surgery.

When they arrived his medical record was littered with mistakes from information provided by Grey Base Hospital, she said.

"Everything I wrote down a week earlier had been changed. We lived in Cobden by the time we got to Christchurch." (They live in Blaketown.) The surgeon could not believe Mr Awatere had spent a week without strong pain relief, she said.

Her son had three plates inserted in his face and spent two days in Christchurch Hospital. The family could not fault his treatment there. The family's own GP and ACC had also been "wonderful", she said.

A post-op check in Christchurch yesterday went well. They were told he could start eating solid food again and his face would look normal when it had healed.

Mrs Awatere said she went to Grey Base Hospital last Monday and asked to speak to the doctor who had treated him there. Staff told her if she had any complaints she should talk to Christchurch Hospital. She replied she wasn't upset about her son's treatment in Christchurch.

"I said, 'it's the fact of the way my son was treated up here ... he would have got better and quicker treatment at the bloody vets'." She said the staff asked her to fill in a patient feedback form. She refused, because she had done so in the past and her complaint had been ignored.

Staff told her the doctor who had treated her son would be on duty the next day. The hospital subsequently called and said she couldn't see the doctor and had to follow the proper process.

Staff referred her to another staff member, but said the person was on leave. However, the person later called her.

Mrs Awatere said that the West Coast District Health Board (DHB) had this morning offered her a face-to-face meeting with the doctor, which would take place on January 31. She said she was told the doctor usually worked at Buller Medical Service.

Mrs Awatere said Jeremy Awatere had suffered brain damage as a child, when he stopped breathing after a vaccination. He had worked hard to overcome his subsequent learning and co-ordination problems. Teaching himself to skateboard had been a big achievement.

The DHB failed to answer questions from the Westport News.

General manager Grey/Westland Mark Newsome said a formal complaint had been laid and the DHB would make no further comment until it had finished its investigation. It would then contact the complainant directly.

Mrs Awatere told the Westport News she had not yet laid a formal complaint.

Mr Newsome said he was referring to her [verbal] complaint to the DHB's patient safety officer on Wednesday, which the DHB was acknowledging in writing.

DHB orthopaedic surgeon Pradu Dayaram told The Press Mr Awatere saw a doctor within 90 minutes of arriving at the ED and immediately received pain relief.

"Mr Awatere was not the most urgent patient in ED that afternoon.

"We do not like our patients to experience more pain than is necessary, and we apologise if Mr Awatere was experiencing strong pain that may not have been properly medicated," Mr Dayaram said.

-Westport News

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