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by Loveen Gill and Eden Debebe

36-year-old Harmandeep Singh Oberoi died in hospital from a serious case of COVID-19 on May 3.  His family members and community advocates say his death was preventable, laying blame on the systemic inequities in Peel’s health care system.

“I told the nurse, ‘Miss look after my son, he is anxious. He hasn’t slept in a while. Maybe he needs oxygen’,” said Manmeet Kaur Oberoi, Harmandeep’s mother.

“And then the nurse started talking to me in Hindi…she said something that got me more anxious. She said, ‘we have so many patients before him and I don’t know how many will die’.”

Harmandeep started showing symptoms of COVID-19 on April 25th and his parents say the took him to Brampton Civic Hospital for a check-up on April 30th. Manmeet said the visit only lasted a couple of hours before he was sent back home, instructed by doctors to take Tylenol and sleep off any lingering symptoms. By May 2nd, Manmeet said Harmandeep’s condition had gotten so bad, the family was forced to call 9-1-1.

“When the paramedics had come, I kept asking them to take his puffers and meds, but they were just telling us to stay away,” Manmeet said.

According to Manmeet, staff at Brampton Civic Hospital sent Harmandeep home just hours after he had arrived, this time with a basic puffer and more Tylenol. With their family doctor’s office closed over the weekend, Manmeet said she felt helpless watching Harmandeep’s condition deteriorate.

“He started getting cold-sweats and feeling chills,” Manmeet said.

“I had the pulsometer. A little before that the pulse was okay, and suddenly his pulse was 40 and I had to call 9-1-1 again.”

While they waited for the ambulance to arrive, Manmeet said her son spent the entire time sharing his concerns and distrust of the hospital.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to go to the hospital. It’s a nightmare. They will make me sit six hours.'”

Harmandeep was rushed to Brampton Civic Hospital for the third and final time on May 3rd.

“That’s the last I saw him,” Manmeet said.

“The ambulance was here in our driveway for 15 min and they were giving him CPR. Another ambulance came and took him to hospital and he was gone within minutes.”

Manmeet shared her ordeal in a public letter that she sent to the board of directors at Brampton Civic Hospital, Peel Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown.  

 

In a statement to OMNI News, the Brampton Civic Hospital board said it was sympathetic to the death of Harmandeep Singh, and that the overall situation was currently under review.

Dr. Amit Arya said COVID-19 has only highlighted the systemic inequities that have always existed in Peel Region.

“Even before COVID-19 we were in a health care crisis, we didn’t have enough hospital beds in Brampton,” Arya said.

“The numbers tell us that we have 0.96 beds per thousand people in Brampton and the provincial average is actually over two hospital beds per thousand people. So we had less than 50 per cent of what was happening in the average.

Save Peel organizer Navi Aujla said Harmandeep’s story is just one of many in Peel Region, and that the blame goes far beyond Brampton Civic Hospital.

“There may have been negligence on the part of the hospital, but I think it’s part of a larger systemic issue that we need to focus on where the hospital is facing a lack of resources,” Aujla said.

Arya points the finger at the lack of consideration for at-risk areas by government officials going into the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The province knew in February that they should have given more vaccines to hotspot regions like Brampton, like Peel Region, where there’s more essential workers, people who work in factories, manufacturing, work in transit. But yet they didn’t do that,” Arya said.

“We have to hold the people in power, the government, to account for what they’ve done.”

Manmeet acknowledged the disadvantages Peel region’s healthcare sector is under, mourning her son and other residents who are forced to pay the price.

“It’s a vicious circle,” Manmeet said.

“Something is going wrong, from top to bottom and going round and round but we are at the receiving end of it. The patients and the families are at the receiving end of it which is very unfair.”

A small memorial at the home of Harmandeep Singh Oberoi

Organizations like Save Peel are working to create a list of demands to protect those living in the region, and Aujla said the group will do everything in their power to make sure the government meets those demands.

“There’s only so much that they can do when they are so underfunded, and because Peel has been chronically underfunded for decades now, we can’t expect the problem to be fixed if we just complain to the hospital staff, but rather, we need to be pushing the government to give them the proper funding to be able to actually address these issues,” Aujla said.

“We just need to speak up and get involved and get organized and make sure that the government can’t ignore us any longer, because these stories, unfortunately, have been happening for decades and will continue to happen until we push the government to make sure that we’re adequately funded.”