Panel to assess Indigenous patient care after the death of a young woman in St. Catharines


Published December 9, 2022 at 11:19 am

heather winterstien st catharines
GoFundMe photo

Heather Winterstein was only 24 years old when she felt ill and went to the emergency department at St. Catharines General Hospital for help, only to die from a treatable illness.

One year later, Niagara Health announced it is beginning an external assessment of the emergency department (ED) to improve patient care and experiences for Indigenous Peoples.

The independent assessment follows the tragic death of Heather Winterstein, an Indigenous patient in Niagara Health’s care in December 2021, Niagara Health said in a press release on Dec. 8.

“This ED Assessment is done in Heather’s memory,” the release notes.

The panel will seek input from Indigenous patients and families, organizations, community services, and healthcare partners to understand experiences and assess opportunities for improvement.

Niagara Health physicians and staff will also have the opportunity to share their perspectives and experiences with the panel.

Winterstein went to the emergency room because of a backache, according to a GoFundMe for her family. She was sent home with a prescription for Tylenol and no blood work was done.

Not feeling better she returned the next day by ambulance, collapsed in the emergency room and was admitted to intensive care.

“Within hours she was dead,” the fundraiser notes. “Had they done a proper exam, including bloodwork they would have seen Strep A.  Strep A is treatable.”

The ED Assessment Panel will listen and examine all information collected and provide recommendations to Niagara Health to improve the care and experiences of patients, families and communities.

The findings will be reviewed with the understanding that they will be applied across the three EDs and all Niagara Health sites.

The independent ED Assessment Panel is composed of five external leaders with a blend of expertise in emergency department and clinical operations, governance and management, employee engagement and patient care, and knowledge and practise of Indigenous culture and traditional healing. They include:

  • Panel Chair: Dr. Eric Letovsky, chief of emergency medicine, Trillium Health Partners
  • Pat Mandy, registered nurse, member of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation
  • Carolyn Farquharson, director, Urgent and Critical Care, Sinai Health
  • Dr. David Price, McMaster University professor and family physician
  • Debra Jonathan, registered nurse, Turtle Clan, Cayuga Nation

Jill Shimizu-Wilson, who has guided this work as an Indigenous Advisor at Niagara Health, will continue to support the panel by leading the engagement with the Indigenous community to understand experiences and identify opportunities for improvement.

The goal is to learn, offer healing, and mobilize change to improve the quality and safety of care for Indigenous patients.

The ED Assessment Panel invites members of the Indigenous community to share their experiences.

The assessment will conclude in mid-2023 with a public report of findings and recommendations to help support a high-performing ED that provides quality care for Indigenous Peoples, extending sensitivity to their cultural needs.

People can learn more about the panel and assessment at

There is also more information here: Indigenous Health Services and Reconciliation at Niagara Health here.

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