‘Completely preventable’: Lack of family doctor blamed in death of 23-year-old Nanaimo woman

Sophia is pictured.

Friends and family are bringing the death of a 23-year-old woman in Nanaimo to light with hopes of improving what they call a broken healthcare system.

Her name was Sophia and she worked at a homeless shelter and it’s believed that work may have been one of the factors that led to her death.

The Nanaimo Unitarian shelter is where Sophia started working in September 2022, having just graduated from Vancouver Island University’s Community Mental Health Worker program. Her family has asked us not to use her last name.

Right from the outset, staff at the shelter say she was gung-ho, fit in perfectly and was considered a rising star.

“The way that she walked through the world and did this kind of work she showed a lot of compassion and caring for people, but she was also very firm and could handle anyone who was in the shelter,” said Paul Manly, executive director of the Nanaimo Unitarian Shelter.

“She was who she wanted to be and she generally cared about everybody around her,” said Alicia Dawson, a friend.

But health complications, those around her now believe may have resulted from her work at the shelter, led her to take a medical leave last summer. With no family doctor, she struggled to get the healthcare she needed.

“We have one walk-in clinic and if you’re not feeling well and you’re feeling weak, you’ve got to get up at five in the morning, go line up at six in the morning in order to get there on time when other people are lined up to make sure that you can see a doctor that day,” said Manly.

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Sophia is pictured. (Submitted)

With her health deteriorating over time, she headed to the ER at Nanaimo’s hospital Thanksgiving weekend where her mother says she was misdiagnosed and sent home.

A month later, her condition was not improving and her mom called BC Ambulance to take her to the hospital again. On Nov. 24, she finally received an accurate diagnosis, an immunodeficiency with an infection. Her condition by now so severe she was transferred to a Vancouver hospital where she died three days later.

“She had a huge future ahead of her. She deserved so much more. She would’ve been a huge impact on our community,” said Dawson.

“This is an example of somebody who, 23 years old, would, you know, just with some simple care would be here today, but she’s not. It was completely preventable,” said Manly.

Manly says the health-care system failed the Nanaimo woman and Sophia’s death serves as a tragic reminder of how desperately we need to fix the doctor shortage in this province.

Sophia’s mother has laid a formal complaint with Island Health.

Island Health released a statement confirming that Sophia had multiple patient visits for her health issues both in hospital and community. It says their patient care quality office has connected with Sophia’s family and will be reviewing her care history to ensure all of the family’s questions are answered.

CHEK News also reached out to the Ministry of Health and have yet to get a reply.

Last summer, health-care worker’s raised concerns surrounding the far inferior cardiac care services at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital when compared to Victoria’s, despite it having an older and faster-growing population that it serves.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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