ABBOSTFORD (NEWS 1130) — The family of a young Abbotsford man who took his own life after going to a hospital twice in one day during a mental-health crisis is suing the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the provincial government.
A statement of claim filed Friday, Samwel Uko’s family is claiming negligence after he went to Regina General Hospital twice earlier this year. He was initially diagnosed with depression, then released.
Uko went back to the hospital after feeling suicidal on May 21, but was escorted out as he cried for help. His body was found the same day in Wascana Lake.
“Each of the defendants knew or ought to have known that the improper and inadequate policies, programs and guidelines established for vulnerable patients struggling with mental-health issues … would create an inherent danger to those patients,” the statement says.
Uko helped the Abbotsford Panthers reach the provincial AA football championship game twice while in high school. The first time was in 2015, when his teammate was Chase Claypool, now a rookie wide receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In his NFL debut last month, Claypool honoured his departed teammate and friend by writing his last name on the wrist tape he wore during the Steelers 26-16 win.
“The best high school football player I’ve ever played with/against and an even better kid,” Claypool says in a tweet. “Miss you, brother. Red heart. The system failed you.”
— Pantherfootball (@AbbyPanthers) September 15, 2020
Relatives of the 20-year-old Uko have said he was in the provincial capital visiting an aunt when he sought help at the Regina General Hospital.
The statement of claim says a doctor diagnosed Uko with depression and referred him to a mental-health clinic.
A short time later, the document says, Uko contacted a mental-health worker and said he had suicidal tendencies and had once tried to kill himself. It says he was referred to an appointment with a psychiatrist within a week, but was also told to contact a community support team or go back to the hospital emergency room if he felt worse.
That evening, Uko called 911 and was taken back to the emergency room by a police officer.
Video footage from shortly after police left showed four security officers escorting Uko out of the emergency room as he called out for help, a Saskatchewan Health Authority review found.
The health authority, saying Uko was “improperly denied care,” apologized to his family in July.
The statement of claim alleges “Saskatchewan knew or ought to have known that its actions and omission were of a kind reasonably capable of causing damages to patients struggling with mental-health issues, like Samwel.”
Uko’s family is seeking an undisclosed amount in damages for bereavement, grief counselling, and loss of future financial support.
The lawsuit also says that after Uko’s death, the executive director of acute care at the health authority confirmed there was nothing in place to ensure Uko or any other patient in a similar situation received the right care.
The best high school football player I’ve ever played with/against and an even better kid. Miss you, brother. The system failed you. https://t.co/ce74E4C8V9
— Chase Claypool (@ChaseClaypool) September 16, 2020
“[He] further acknowledged that the SHA spent too much time trying to obtain Samwel’s identity and not enough time focusing on his health-care needs.”
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
In a statement Friday, the health authority thanked Uko’s family members for their participation in its review of his care and for accepting the formal apology.
“SHA again extends its deepest condolences to the Uko family on their loss. We will not have any comment on the statement of claim as it is an active legal file.”
Uko’s death is to be the subject of a coroner’s inquest to be held at a later date.
If you or someone you know needs help immediately, call 911 or the B.C. Crisis Centre at either 310-6789 (no area code required) or 1.800.784.2433 where help is available 24/7. You can alternatively call Crisis Services Canada at 833.456.4566 for help 24/7 or text 45645 from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. PT in English and French.