Justin Nyee says that, as he was preparing his statement for next week’s inquest into the death of his nephew Samwel Uko, he couldn’t help but reminisce about his final encounters with the then-20-year-old B.C. resident who was in Regina to visit family at the time.
“I went back to read his last message to me. We were chatting and he was asking me about his future studies. He was joking, saying, ‘I don’t like math,’” Nyee said Friday.
“It brought back memories and it was very emotional for me to write the statement. It’s been a long two years.”
But while he says he hopes the coroner’s inquest, which was twice delayed, will provide some long-awaited new details about what occurred the day of Uko’s death, he doesn’t think the process will provide his family with an any kind of end to the mourning. He says that will go on forever.
Instead, he hopes the witnesses called and evidence examined can lead to recommendations to improve mental health care in Saskatchewan so that no other family has to go through what his has.
“We as a community can use this as a way to help prevent this in the future,” he said.
“A lot of families have someone in their family with mental health issues, and these are concerns for everyone.”
On May 21, 2020, hours after a Snapchat video appearing to show Uko calling for help at Regina General Hospital, police were called to the north shore of Wascana Lake after reports came in about a man swimming in the lake before vanishing from site.
It was later announced that the body of 20-year-old Samwel Uko had been found by water-rescue crews.
In the months following, it was revealed that Uko had twice visited Regina General Hospital the day of his death, which his family attributes to suicide.
The second time, he was forcibly removed by hospital security hours before his death, an event captured by hospital surveillance cameras.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority has since completed a review of the incident, apologized and paid damages to Uko’s family, and outlined a number of ways it planned to change its processes for dealing with situations like Uko’s — which occurred when facility access was restricted due to the pandemic.
Still, both Uko’s family and onlookers think more can be gleaned from the week-long inquiry.
While he doesn’t know the family directly, Regina resident Dale Rathgeber plans to attend the first couple days of the inquest.
Earlier this month, he visited the Saskatchewan legislature with his sister Janice who told a story of twice waiting over seven hours for emergency medical care in Regina hospitals this past April.
In the legislature, and speaking to Global News Friday, he spoke about how he sees Janice’s experience mirroring Uko’s.
“Janice was in two ERs within the span of three days and in both cases it was seven to eight hours before we got any medical attention,” he said, explaining that EMS staff suggested Janice be taken home at one point during the first occasion as the wait time stretched on.
“She was in extreme distress. In the state that she was in there was no way that she could be taken home. If she was by herself she may have been discharged and it could have ended up in a tragic result like it did with Samwel Uko.”
When she visited the legislature, Janice Rathgeber told reporters she thinks she was in a place where she may have harmed herself on those days.
Rathgeber noted that he isn’t putting any blame on the staff at the hospitals. He said that once Janice received care, it was excellent.
Still, he worries about what might have happened had he not been able to wait in the ER with his sister.
“Samwel wasn’t as lucky in his case in the sense that he didn’t have family with him,” he said.
“I hope that there’s some serious evaluation of how mental health patients are prioritized.”
In a statement responding to the Rathgeber’s visit, the provincial government noted $92 million in recent spending on mental health health and addictions initiatives, including $3 million or the Pillars for Life suicide prevention plan.
It also notes that work has begun on a new urgent care centre in Regina which “will provide more timely access for health care issues needing immediate medical attention, including injury care, basic diagnostic services and mental health and addictions supports.”
Rathgeber commended the project, about those who will need emergency care before its scheduled 2023 completion.
The inquest kicks off at the Ramada Plaza hotel in Regina Monday at 10 a.m. and is scheduled to run through June 3,
Coroner Robert Kennedy is slotted to preside at the inquest.
The purpose of an inquest, as outlined by the provincial government, is to establish who died, when and where that person died and the medical cause and manner of death.
The coroner’s jury may make recommendations to prevent similar deaths.
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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