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Coroner's inquest opens next week for man who died in Fredericton ER waiting area

A coroner's inquest into Darrell Mesheau's death while waiting to be treated at a hospital ER is set to begin April 8, after being delayed for a police investigation. (Darrell Mesheau/Facebook - image credit)
A coroner's inquest into Darrell Mesheau's death while waiting to be treated at a hospital ER is set to begin April 8, after being delayed for a police investigation. (Darrell Mesheau/Facebook - image credit)

A coroner's inquest will be held next week into the death of a 78-year-old man in the waiting area of the Fredericton hospital's emergency room.

Darrell Mesheau died on July 12, 2022, at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital.

The inquest into his death will be held at the Fredericton Inn from April 8-11, starting with jury selection on the first day, according to a news release issued Tuesday from the Department of Justice and Public Safety.

Mesheau's son released a statement Tuesday, saying the family expects the inquest will "bring to light" the details surrounding his father's death.

"The family is well aware of the deplorable state of the healthcare system in New Brunswick, and we hope that the recommendations forthcoming from the inquest will help drive positive change and ensure that no New Brunswicker will face such a tragedy again," said Ryan Mesheau, in an emailed statement shared with CBC News.

Political ramifications

The death of Mesheau, a former diplomat, father of two and grandfather of one, sparked outrage across the province and prompted a major shakeup of New Brunswick's health-care leadership.

Premier Blaine Higgs fired Horizon Health Network president and CEO John Dornan, replaced Dorothy Shephard as health minister and removed the boards of both Horizon and Vitalité.

Dornan was subsequently awarded a record-breaking $2 million by a labour arbitrator in his unjust dismissal case against the province — a decision since upheld by Court of King's Bench Justice Kathryn Gregory.

A coroner's inquest was originally scheduled for last May, but was abruptly postponed when new information was brought forward, prompting an investigation by police.

Last December, the Fredericton Police Force concluded Mesheau's death did not involve criminality.

Strained staffing levels

Witness John Staples told CBC News at the time that an elderly man had been waiting alone in a wheelchair in visible discomfort for hours when he appeared to fall asleep.

It was only during a routine check of people in the waiting room that a hospital employee realized the man had stopped breathing, Staples said.

Horizon says 'there has been a high-risk of exposure in recent days' to the Chalmers employee who tested positive for a COVID variant of concern.
Horizon says 'there has been a high-risk of exposure in recent days' to the Chalmers employee who tested positive for a COVID variant of concern.

Mesheau died while in the waiting area of the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital's emergency department on July 12, 2022. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

According to documents obtained by CBC News, the licensed practical nurses who were assigned to check on patients in the ER waiting room the night Mesheau died were also assigned to other tasks and "could not commit to regular checks."

The nurse-to-patient ratio the day Mesheau died was also "alarmingly high and unquestionably … unsafe," according to local representatives of the New Brunswick Nurses Union.

Deputy chief coroner Emily Caissy is presiding over the inquest and, along with jurors, will publicly hear evidence from witnesses to determine the facts surrounding Mesheau's death.

Once all evidence has been heard, the jury will have the opportunity to make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances.