Tag Archives: Pleas

Video captures patient crawling out exit after hospital dismisses pleas for help

David Pontone’s voice still shakes as he recalls having to crawl out of Toronto’s Humber River Hospital on his hands and knees. 

“The pain was unbearable,” said Pontone. “To be able to walk properly was impossible.”

It happened on April 18, 2018 but involved a lengthy battle for his family to obtain video footage of the event. 

The 45-year-old had gone to emergency, complaining of excruciating pain in his legs. 

Pontone also told medical staff he took medication for bipolar affective disorder — a mental illness that causes severe depression and episodes of mania — but that he’d been stable for seven years. He says that disclosure affected his treatment.

“They thought I was faking it because I was bipolar,” Pontone told Go Public. “There are no words to describe what I went through that night.”

One of Canada’s leading psychiatric experts says overlooking serious physical health issues in people who struggle with mental illness is a widespread problem — and that it can severely shorten their lifespans.

“We are failing this population miserably,” said Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos, psychiatrist and physician-in-chief at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital. 

WATCH | Video shows man crawling from hospital after calls for help dismissed:

CBC News has obtained surveillance video of a man forced to crawl away from a Toronto-area hospital after being refused treatment. The video has raised questions about how people with mental health issues are treated when they need medical help. 2:01

“They go in for a broken leg and get sent to psychiatry to check their head.”

Pontone says he hopes sharing his story will prevent others from experiencing an ordeal like his. 

“I was mistreated. Misjudged. It should never be repeated, with any person,” he said.

When Pontone arrived at emergency he was seen by a doctor who ordered an MRI but also referred him to an on-call psychiatrist after learning about his mental illness. 


Pontone reacts to seeing closed circuit video from the hospital of his ordeal. (Mike Cole/CBC)

In medical records obtained by Go Public, the psychiatrist noted that “anxiety” seemed to be Pontone’s most dominant symptom — despite Pontone having said he was in a great deal of pain and had been suffering from increasing leg pain for a month.

Another note says the reason for Pontone’s visit is “bipolar” — not his inability to walk.

When the MRI didn’t find anything unusual, the psychiatrist discharged Pontone.

“As soon as they got the results … they took off the blankets and started saying, ‘Come on, get up! You’re fine, there’s nothing wrong with you!'” said Pontone.

‘Totally helpless’

Video cameras at the exit captured Pontone as he was ordered to leave. The footage shows Pontone lying on the hallway floor, struggling to stand. 

As he gets to his hands and knees and crawls toward the exit, a nurse walks next to him, escorting him out. Passersby stop to look at the spectacle, but the nurse encourages Pontone to keep going.


Pontone is seen lying on his back near a hospital exit, unable to walk due to excruciating leg pain. (Humber River Hospital)

“The nurse kept saying, ‘You’re a big boy! You’re strong! Come on, big boy, stand up!'” said Pontone.

“I’ve always been a gentleman, but I was angry. I felt totally helpless.” 

It took Pontone about 20 minutes to reach the exit. A security guard later helped him to a waiting taxi.

He says the doctors had made him think his pain was “all in his head,” so a few days later, he made his way to CAMH, where a psychiatrist immediately determined that his suffering had nothing to do with his mental health. 

An ambulance took him to Toronto Western Hospital in downtown Toronto, where a neurologist diagnosed Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. 

Five weeks later, the family met with Humber management. They hadn’t seen the video yet, but chief nursing executive Vanessa Burkoski had screened it and told them she was disturbed by what she saw. 


Lucia Pontone says she was in disbelief when she saw the footage of her son crawling out of Humber River Hospital. (Mike Cole/CBC)

She apologized, and told the family they could have the video once people’s faces had been blurred for privacy. 

In a follow-up meeting two months later, the family viewed the video for the first time.

“They let him go, like a dog, outside,” said Pontone’s mother, Lucia. “Nobody should be treated like that.”

“It’s hard to understand how the hospital thought this was OK,” said Pontone’s sister Laura. “It was humiliating. It was not OK.”

Pontone wanted a copy of the video, but in spite of Burkoski’s earlier assurances, the hospital now said it couldn’t hand the footage over, in case Pontone unblurred the faces of other people. 

The hospital took the matter to Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner, stating it didn’t feel comfortable giving Pontone the video and that a cybersecurity expert would have to be hired for about ten hours to use multi-layered obscuring technology, so Pontone couldn’t unblur the faces later.


Humber River Hospital fired the nurse who watched Pontone crawl out, but it won’t say whether any doctors who saw him were disciplined. (CBC)

It also said Pontone would have to pay the cost and sign an agreement, promising not to share the video.

The Pontones met with Toronto personal injury lawyer Harrison Cooper, who offered to work pro bono after hearing about his ordeal.

“In Canada we pride ourselves on evolving to understand mental illness,” said Cooper. “And we don’t want incidents like this — where someone who has a mental illness isn’t treated the same way someone without mental illness is treated.”

The fight took two years to resolve. The privacy commissioner ruled Pontone could have the footage if basic blurring was done, stating that Pontone had shown no indication he wanted to reveal other people’s faces. 

The hospital paid for the blurring and shared the footage.

Hospital ‘deeply troubled’

Go Public requested an interview with a spokesperson for Humber River Hospital, which was declined. 

In a statement spokesperson Joe Gorman said the hospital was “deeply troubled” by Pontone’s experience and that the staff involved “were dealt with accordingly.”

“Every patient at Humber River Hospital deserves compassionate, professional and respectful care from our staff,” Gorman wrote. 

Go Public has learned that the nurse who escorted Pontone out of the hospital was fired. Gorman wouldn’t say whether any of the doctors were disciplined. 

‘Diagnostic overshadowing’

Stergiopoulos was not involved when Pontone visited CAMH. But she says it’s so common for health-care professionals to blame mental illness for people’s physical health concerns that there’s a term for it — “diagnostic overshadowing.”

She recalls, several decades ago, “having to take a patient of mine with serious mental illness to the oncologist who had refused to treat her just because she had a mental illness.” 

“It was through advocacy that I managed to get her into treatment and she was treated successfully,” she said. “And to see that persist so many years later, it’s really heartbreaking. I think we can do better and I think we should do better.” 


Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos says more training is needed for health-care professionals so patients with mental illnesses are treated with respect. (Jon Castell/CBC)

A 2019 Lancet Psychiatry Commission reviewed the findings of almost 100 systemic reviews that examined the presence of medical conditions among people worldwide with mental illness. It found that people with serious mental illness have a life expectancy that’s up to 25 years shorter than the general population.

“The statistics are indeed shocking,” said Stergiopoulos. “And what is most shocking is that they’re persisting despite us knowing about these issues for many years now.”

She says several factors can be behind the shortened life expectancy for people with mental health issues — such as a sedentary lifestyle or a lack of disease prevention services — but a key reason is stigma and discrimination by health-care workers. 

At the root of the problem, says Stergiopoulos, health-care professionals see physical and mental health as separate.

“This is flawed and we need to do a better job at seeing people as human beings.”

Pontone spent almost four months undergoing intensive rehabilitation, but considers himself lucky to be able to walk again — Guillain-Barre Syndrome can worsen rapidly and attack the organs. It can also lead to full-body paralysis and possibly death.

His mother hopes that speaking out will benefit other people with mental illness who need help with a physical problem.

“I want the hospital to change the way they look at mental health,” she says. “So that this doesn’t happen again.”


Pontone is seen on his hands and knees, while passersby stop beside him. (Humber River Hospital)

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Pleas for calm as protests sweep U.S. over police killing of George Floyd

Another night of unrest across the United States left charred and shattered landscapes in dozens of cities Sunday as years of festering frustrations over the mistreatment of African Americans at the hands of police boiled over in expressions of rage met with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Cars and businesses were torched, the words “I can’t breathe” were spray-painted on buildings, a fire in a trash bin burned near the gates of the White House, and thousands marched peacefully through city streets to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck until he stopped breathing.

His death is one of a litany of racial tragedies that have thrown the country into chaos amid the coronavirus pandemic that has left millions out of work and killed more than 100,000 people in the U.S., including disproportionate numbers of black people.

“We’re sick of it. The cops are out of control,” protester Olga Hall said in Washington D.C. “They’re wild. There’s just been too many dead boys.”

People set fire to police cars, threw bottles at police officers and busted windows of storefronts, carrying away TVs and other items even as some protesters urged them to stop. In Indianapolis, police were investigating multiple shootings, including one that left a person dead amid the protests — adding to deaths in Detroit and Minneapolis in recent days.

WATCH | Dozens arrested in Minneapolis for curfew violations:

Dozens of protesters were arrested in Minneapolis as protests continue. Officials say police focused their efforts mostly only those violating the 8 p.m. curfew. 4:00

In Minneapolis, the city where the protests began, police, state troopers and National Guard members moved in soon after an 8 p.m. curfew took effect to break up protests, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to clear streets outside a police precinct and elsewhere.

WATCH | Protesters gather around White House Saturday night

CBC’s Katie Simpson reports from outside the White House, where protesters have gathered over the death of George Floyd 8:26

Photojournalist Tom Aviles was struck by a rubber bullet on Saturday night in Minneapolis while working for a local CBS-owned TV station.

Moments after he was hit, police forced Aviles onto the ground and took him into custody. He was later released.

A video posted to Twitter shows an armoured vehicle rolling down a residential street in Minneapolis’s Whittier neighbourhood on Saturday. National Guard soldiers are heard ordering people to remain inside.


At least 13 police officers were injured in Philadelphia when peaceful protests turned violent and at least four police vehicles were set on fire.

Protesters sprayed graffiti on a statue of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, tried to topple it and set a fire at its base. Rizzo was Philadelphia’s mayor from 1972 to 1980 and was praised by supporters as tough on crime but accused by critics of discriminating against minorities.


People loot stores in Los Angeles on Saturday night during the unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd last Monday. (Kyle Grillot/Reuters)

In downtown Charleston, S.C., protesters damaged multiple businesses and defaced a Confederate statue overnight.

NYC police cruisers driven into crowd

In New York City, dangerous confrontations flared repeatedly as officers made arrests and cleared streets. A video taken in Brooklyn showed two NYPD cruisers lurching into a crowd of demonstrators who were pushing a barricade against one of them and pelting it with objects. Several people were knocked to the ground, and it was unclear if anyone was hurt.


“The mistakes that are happening are not mistakes. They’re repeated violent terrorist offences and people need to stop killing black people,” Brooklyn protester Meryl Makielski said.

There was pandemonium in Chicago on Saturday as demonstrators swarmed two city police officers and started dragging them on the ground. Some of the protesters came to the officers’ defence by forming a protective ring around them.


Few corners of America were untouched, from protesters setting fires inside Reno’s city hall, to police launching tear gas at rock-throwing demonstrators in Fargo, North Dakota. In Salt Lake City, demonstrators flipped a police car and lit it on fire. Police said six people were arrested and a police officer was injured after being struck in the head with a baseball bat.

More than 1,600 arrests

Police have arrested at least 1,669 people in 22 cities since Thursday, according to a tally by The Associated Press.

Nearly a third of those arrests came in Los Angeles, where the governor declared a state of emergency and ordered the National Guard to back up the city’s 10,000 police officers as dozens of fires burned across the city.

All COVID-19 testing centres throughout Los Angeles will be closed until further notified, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas said on Twitter, citing a “social breakdown prompted by excessive force” resulting in Floyd’s death.


A protester assists an elderly man inadvertently affected by tear gas during unrest in Raleigh, N.C. on Saturday. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

The damage in U.S. cities came as many Americans plan to return to in-person church services on Sunday for the first time in several weeks since the pandemic forced a ban on large gatherings. Pastors in pulpits across the country will likely be urging peace amid the rubble of riots.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a 9 p.m. curfew for the city Saturday evening and issued a statement, saying she had “total disgust” over the number of people who came to the protest “armed for all-out battle.”


Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin reacts after getting pepper sprayed by police during a protest over the death of George Floyd near the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Saturday. (Kyle Robertson/The Columbus Dispatch via The Associated Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to cheer on the tougher tactics Saturday night, commending the National Guard deployment in Minneapolis, declaring “No games!” and saying police in New York City “must be allowed to do their job!”

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden condemned the violence as he continued to express common cause with those demonstrating after Floyd’s death.

“The act of protesting should never be allowed to overshadow the reason we protest,” Biden said in a statement Saturday night.

Overnight curfews have been imposed in more than a dozen major cities nationwide, including Atlanta, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle.

This week’s unrest recalled the riots in Los Angeles nearly 30 years ago after the acquittal of the white police officers who beat Rodney King, a black motorist who had led them on a high-speed chase. The protests of Floyd’s killing have gripped many more cities, but the losses in Minneapolis have yet to approach the staggering totals Los Angeles saw during five days of rioting in 1992, when more than 60 people died, 2,000-plus were injured and thousands arrested, with property damage topping $ 1 billion US.


Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in Kansas City, Mo., on Saturday night. (Reuters)

But not all protests were marred by violence. In Juneau, Alaska, local police joined protesters at a rally in front of a giant whale sculpture on the city’s waterfront.

“We don’t tolerate excessive use of force,” Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer told a gathering where most people wore masks and some sang Alaska Native songs.

The show of force in Minneapolis came after three days when police largely avoided engaging protesters, and after the state poured in more than 4,000 National Guard troops to Minneapolis and said the number would soon rise to nearly 11,000.

“The situation in Minneapolis is no longer in any way about the murder of George Floyd,” said Gov. Tim Walz, who also said local forces had been overmatched the previous day. “It is about attacking civil society, instilling fear and disrupting our great cities.”

WATCH | Minneapolis police clear out protesters:

CBC’s Susan Ormiston talks about the moment police in Minneapolis cleared out peaceful protesters who were breaking curfew 5:47

Some residents were glad to see the upheaval dissipating.

“l live here. I haven’t been able to sleep,” said Iman Muhammad, whose neighborhood saw multiple fires set Friday night. Muhammad said she sympathized with peaceful protests over Floyd’s death but disagreed with the violence: “Wrong doesn’t answer wrong.”

Floyd’s body will return to Houston

The mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, says Floyd’s body will be returning to Houston, Tex., where he grew up in the city’s Third Ward, one of its predominantly black neighbourhoods. Floyd was a Houston native before moving to Minnesota.

WATCH | Violence at demonstrations reflects societal violence against black people, says protester:

Zae Sellers is one of the demonstrators who’s taken to Minneapolis streets following the killing of George Floyd. She says while it’s wrong for protesters to “tear down” their own community, the recent protest violence is a reflection of violence against black people. 7:03

At 6 feet, 6 inches, Floyd emerged as a star tight end for Jack Yates High School and played in the 1992 state championship game in the Houston Astrodome. Yates lost to Temple, 38-20.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey appealed for calm again on Saturday night, as did Melvin Carter, the mayor of nearby Saint Paul.


People attend a protest against the death of George Floyd in Atlanta on Saturday. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The outrage over Floyd’s death needs to be turned into action to ensure something like that never happens again, Carter said.

He said telling the world that those responsible must be held accountable is what’s important, but “events of this week have distracted us, have sought to exploit the death of Mr. Floyd for the purposes of further destroying the communities that have been most traumatized by his death.”

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