By Keith Lacey
In a surprising development, the supervisor responsible for an oxygen shutdown which contributed to the death of a senior last year admitted he had been drinking before going to work.
After a two-week delay in a coroner?s inquest, Laurentian Hospital building controls manager Brian Hanna was recalled to the stand at the coroner?s inquest into the death of Robert Smilanich, 76.
Smilanich died minutes after an oxygen valve was accidentally turned off. Smilanich was near death suffering from advanced cancer and numerous other serious ailments the evening of Jan. 26, 2001.
A doctor testified earlier Smilanich?s death was imminent in the next couple of days or perhaps even hours, but it was his professional opinion that Smilanich died the night in question because oxygen was accidentally cut off to his room.
Hanna, in charge of the oxygen shutdown, admitted he?d had a few drinks before going into work to supervise the oxygen shutdown.
Hanna told the jury that he attended a ?moral building? event, at a Copper Cliff restaurant, organized by the hospital managment team, on the morning of January 26 and that he left around noon.
Between 4:30 and 5 pm, Hanna said he attended a bar and had two beers before leaving between 5:30 and 6 pm.
He went home, ate supper, had a nap and just before leaving for the hospital around 9:15 pm had one more beer, Hanna testified.
However, respiratory therapist Gerry Grimard testified he met Hanna and ?there was a very strong smell of alcohol coming from Brian? and he could still detect a strong odour of alcohol 10 minutes after Hanna left the room.
Grimard said he went to his supervisors and reported his allegations. To his knowledge Hanna was called in for a disciplinary meeting and given a letter or reprimand by management.
David McNeil, who was corporate director of planning and financial services at the time of Smilanich?s death, testified it was he who reprimanded Hanna by sending him a letter detailing how disappointed he was several employees had smelled alcohol on Hanna?s breath.
He was informed by Dr. David Boyle, chief of staff, there were allegations Hanna had been drinking, said McNeil.
He told Greater Sudbury Police the allegations should be part of their investigation into Smilanich?s death and then he met and reprimanded Hanna, said McNeil.
At the time, there was no written procedure dealing with employees who showed up for work with alcohol in their system, but that has changed.
The letter sent to Hanna stated consuming alcohol before showing up for work was ?unacceptable,? said McNeil.
His actions that night represented poor judgement and the hospital expects managers and employees to conduct themselves professionally in the future, McNeil testified.
Based on the evidence he received, there is no clear proof Hanna?s judgement was impaired, said McNeil.
McNeil, who has since been promoted to corporate director of planning and environmental services at the Sudbury Regional Hospital, also testified several new procedures have been put in place since Smilanich?s death.
A low pressure monitoring system has been installed, meaning any time supplied oxygen is reduced for any reason an alarm would be sounded throughout the hospital, said McNeil.
The hospital has installed a complete oxygen backup system on site and ?once you turn a valve you have immediate access to the system,? he said.
Oxygen cylinders are also placed directly outside the room of any patient who needs supplied oxygen during any oxygen shutdown needed during hospital construction, he said.
The jury is expected to make numerous recommendations today.