A video from April 18, 2018, depicts David Pontone crawling out of Humber River Hospital’s emergency ward after doctors denied him treatment. He had gone to the hospital after feeling acute pain in his legs, a pain so agonizing that it made walking “impossible,” he told CBC’s Go Public.
It took a long two-year legal battle for Pontone to acquire the security camera footage.
The doctors had allegedly refused to treat him once Pontone told them he has bipolar disorder (BPD), and they assumed he was faking the pain.
“They thought I was faking it because I was bipolar,” Pontone said. He had told the medical staff that he takes medication for BPD and has been stable for seven years.
Pontone revealed that a doctor at emergency had ordered an MRI for him and — upon learning about his mental illness — also referred him to an on-call psychiatrist. Go Public’s investigative team acquired medical records that indicated “anxiety” as Pontone’s primary symptom and another note that claimed “bipolar” was the reason for his visit.
Pontone said he told the medical staff that he was suffering severe pain in his legs, which had been worsening for a month. But when the MRI did not suggest anything unusual, the psychiatrist discharged Pontone, whose pain had not been eased whatsoever.
“They took off the blankets and started saying, ‘Come on, get up! You’re fine, there’s nothing wrong with you!’” he said.
The CCTV footage captures a faceless nurse — blurred to protect her anonymity — escorting Pontone out of the hospital. When he collapsed, she did not help him up but instead kicked his left leg, perhaps in a callous attempt to help him stand upright.
Pontone recalled the nurse saying, as she stood over him, “You’re a big boy! You’re strong! Come on, big boy, stand up!” He said it took him 20 minutes to get to the waiting taxi outside the hospital. Go Public ascertained that the hospital has terminated the nurse
The doctors made Pontone believe the agony was “all in his head,” he said.
A few days later, he consulted a psychiatrist at CAMH, who confirmed that the excruciating pain was unrelated to his mental health. An ambulance took Pontone to Toronto Western Hospital, where a neurologist diagnosed him with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a neurological disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the nervous system. According to the World Health Organization, GBS is a potentially life-threatening disease.
Pontone did not see the security footage until over three months after the incident.
He and his family had met with Humber River’s management department and spoke with chief nursing executive Vanessa Burkoski, who apologized on behalf of the hospital but told Pontone that he could not view the video until the faces were censored.
When his mother, Lucia Pontone, and sister, Laura, saw the footage for the first time, they were appalled.
“They let him go, like a dog, outside. Nobody should be treated like that,” Pontone’s mother told Go Public.
“It’s hard to understand how the hospital thought this was OK. It was humiliating. It was not OK,” his sister said.
The hospital denied Pontone’s requests for a copy of the video on the grounds that he might unblur and identify the faces of the people in the footage. When Humber River escalated the matter to the Ontario Privacy Commissioner, they too declined to give Pontone the video.
The commissioner said they would have to enlist a cybersecurity expert to apply multi-layered obscuring technology, a ten-hour process that Pontone would have to pay for himself. He would also have to sign an agreement promising not to publicize the video.
The family then went to a personal injury lawyer, Harris Cooper, who offered his services pro bono and expressed profound empathy for Pontone after hearing what happened to him.
“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.”
On April 17, 2020, the eve of the ordeal’s two-year anniversary, the privacy commissioner ruled that Pontone could acquire the footage after rudimentary blurring was done and that Pontone did not indicate a desire to reveal the people’s identities.
Humber River paid for the blurring fee and shared the footage.
In an official statement, Joe Gorman, the hospital’s director of communications, wrote, “We were deeply troubled when we learned of Mr. Pontone’s experience in our emergency department in April of 2018. Involved staff were dealt with accordingly through Human Resources and professional practice processes.”
While the nurse in the footage was dismissed, Gorman would not tell the press whether the doctors were likewise disciplined, according to Go Public.
Pontone spent almost four months undergoing intensive rehabilitation and said he is fortunate to walk again. He told Go Public that he wanted to share his story to prevent the same discrimination and medical malpractice from happening again
“I was mistreated. Misjudged. It should never be repeated, with any person,” Pontone said.
Wiki Production Code: A0482