Thursday, 08 December 2011 09:51

Collapsed woman had to wait for ambulance . . . in Lethbridge hospital's parking lot

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By Jamie Woodford

A man who witnessed a woman collapse outside Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge doors last Friday is concerned that it took 15 minutes for help to arrive.

"I went into the hospital three times looking for help and assistance saying, 'We need to get the people from the emergency department to get a gurney out there and get her right now,' but they wouldn't do it. Instead they sent security guards to secure the area," said Tony Stephan.

"The (hospital) policy is that if somebody fails to make it to the door, they can't go out and get them. They must have EMS pick them up. And in this case, this woman may very well have lost her life - if she isn't brain damaged because of the fact that she was oxygen deprived."

Around 2 p.m. Friday, Stephan was walking on the hospital sidewalk when he noticed a woman carrying a purse and a bouquet of flowers falter at the curb of the parking lot.

"I turned to look, and next she kind of slumped onto the curb. She didn't fall but she kind of let herself down, and then laid back."

Two other ladies rushed to help the woman while Stephan ran inside the hospital to get help.

"I ran over to the information desk, and quickly alerted the receptionist - I had to interrupt the conversation. I said 'Look there's an emergency outside. There's a lady down on the cement right in front and I think she's having a heart attack . . . we need some help,' and she said 'I got it.' Then I ran back outside and I thought, well, any second now there will be people coming from the emergency department to come and get her, right? I'm waiting, and I'm waiting, and this lady's starting to turn blue. I felt so helpless. I wish I knew CPR. I'm getting upset because I'm watching this lady, she's leaving this life, basically. For what?"

Eventually a woman stepped up to perform artificial respiration while a security guard started CPR. The ambulance arrived shortly after - about 15 minutes after the woman collapsed, said Stephan.

"It was a terrifying situation. When they loaded her onto the gurney, she was just absolutely blue. Then they took her away. Of course all they would do is just drive around the loop, go up half a block, turn left and drive into the emergency doors."

Stephan said he can't wrap his brain around why medical personnel couldn't go outside to assist rather than wait for an ambulance.

"It's terrible. When you stand there and you watch somebody dying, it's such a terrifying experience I've never felt so helpless in my life," he said. "We wasted so much time."

Stephan said he was told the woman was in stable condition. Due to patient confidentiality, he knows nothing else.

"I don't know her name. I just hope and pray that she's OK."

Stephan's concern over the wait-for-EMS policy led him to contact hospital officials, with whom he met Tuesday morning.

"They're recognizing that there's a flaw there," he said after the meeting. "They indicated to me that it's not a policy, it's basically a practice. Every hospital is handling it differently, but it seems to be a general practice."

Stephan said the practise is a public safety issue and it needs to be changed.

"How many other situations have occurred where there's been injury, major discomfort, and maybe even loss of life because of a failure to respond?" he said. "It has to be fixed now before other people suffer.

"The hippocratic oath doesn't allow for policy to intervene. It says we have save lives, right?"

Andrew Will, acting senior vice-president of CRH, said the incident provided an opportunity for the hospital to learn how to respond more efficiently should a similar incident happen again. He said the hospital is committed to improving the current practice.

"This is really a great example of something we know should have went better than it did, and when we bring our team together we know that we will be able to develop a (better) plan."

He said immediate steps have been taken to ensure better communication and response, but the hospital plans an indepth look into the incident in order to implement a new policy for medical emergencies that happen outside of the building.

"The next part of the challenge for us is how to we access other resources in the hospital to respond? Once that initial CPR is initiated and an assessment's made that more help is needed, that's the piece that we need to improve basically, is being able to pull in sufficient resources."

South zone medical director Vanessa Maclean said creating and implementing a new plan won't happen overnight.

"It may sound simple, but even, for example, responding to a code in a hospital may sound simple, but we worked very, very hard with a lot people that are involved. Having a coordinated response that's seamless takes a lot of work and organization to get there," she said. "We don't want to make the mistake of going 'Gee whiz, we should do these three things and we'll just fix it and forget about it.' That's not good enough quite frankly. We need to, again, address what we can, but really go through a vigorous process. Really understanding what are the needs? What can we do and how do we do that?"

Both Maclean and Will wanted to thank the people who helped the woman.

"We want to highlight our gratitude to the bystanders that intervened and most importantly, bystanders that initiated CPR," Maclean said. "That hopefully sends a message to the public that there is great value in having (CPR) skills, and that no matter where you are those skills do have great impact and save lives."

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