The Saskatchewan Health Authority has apologized to the family of Samwel Uko for failing to provide him timely assistance before his death in May.
The 20-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., who was in Regina visiting an aunt, died on May 21 after drowning in Wascana Lake. Prior to his death, Uko sought help at the Regina General Hospital while in the throes of a mental health crisis.
“I extend this apology and condolences on behalf of the Saskatchewan Health Authority to your entire family, and most especially you, Samwel’s parents,” the provincial health authority’s CEO Scott Livingstone said in a letter obtained by CBC.
“Your vibrant young son sought help from us and we failed to provide him the timely assistance he needed.”
Uko’s family says he died by suicide after seeking help at the hospital. The Saskatchewan Coroners Service confirmed his body was found in the lake, but wouldn’t confirm the cause of death, saying an investigation is underway.
“I appreciate there are no words that can bring Samwel back, but I want you to know that we recognize how deeply we failed him,” Livingstone said in his letter.
Uko’s uncle Justin Paul said the family accepts the health authority’s apology, but is still reeling.
“This is still a hard topic to the family. We are trying to make sense of everything,” Paul said in a short statement.
Last month, Uko’s family said he visited the Regina General Hospital twice on the day he died. The second time, he was escorted out by security just a couple of hours before he was found dead, the family said.
Uko kept telling hospital staff that he needed help, as seen in a Snapchat video that he posted.
Before his final moments, Uko wrote on Facebook, “I need help.” He also texted his former teacher, “Please help me, they are after me, they are coming to kill me.”
His uncle and father said they didn’t see any signs that Uko had mental health issues until he said he was hearing voices in his head.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority is currently reviewing Uko’s second visit to the hospital. Uko’s family has agreed to assist the SHA in its review of the incident.
SHA promises to improve services
Livingstone said that beyond any recommendations that come from the review, the health authority is committed to enhancing access to mental health supports in the province.
“Samwel’s tragic experience with our health system will strengthen our resolve to advance this work,” he said in the letter.
The SHA said it will provide more information on Thursday.
Last month, the health authority said Uko’s case was a “critical incident,” defined as “a serious adverse health event including, but not limited to, the actual or potential loss of life … related to a health service provided by, or a program operated by, a health-care organization.”
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has also said the coroner’s service will conduct a public inquest into the death of Samwel Uko.
Uko’s family has also called for adequate mental health services for Black communities in the province. Saskatchewan has no such services tailored to the specific needs of those communities.
Experts say the province needs to collect data on mental health in Black communities in order to improve services.
Uko, who was originally from what is now South Sudan, came to Canada with his family as a refugee in 2005.
He started playing football soon after his arrival in his new home in B.C., and the sport became his passion. He played for a season with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
Where to get help:
In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.
Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or chat online at hopeforwellness.ca.