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Family searching for answers after an ambulance called for help takes three hours to arrive

'She'd still be alive'

A family is questioning BC Emergency Health Services after a family member in medical distress passed away after waiting three hours for an ambulance.  

Maureen Bower’s condition was slowly deteriorating over time until it was too late, her brother Ernie Mack told CTV News Vancouver.

A formal complaint about what happened has been filed by Mack, as he is left wondering why firefighters weren’t sent earlier to help. 

“If they were there within the hour, she’d be recovering from a mild stroke. She’d still be alive,” Mack said. “I’m angry about the situation. Her grandkids will miss their grandmother.”

The agency stated it was a busy night, increased call volumes from the ongoing opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult. However, a Patient Safety Event Review has been started. 

“We know the response time was exceptionally long for this call. BC EHS has initiated a comprehensive review of this incident,” a spokesperson said.

A retired firefighter, Gary Lauwers, was close by while the family was waiting for medical assistance and commented that the agency should really be looking into its policy standards to not call firefighters for lower priority situations. 

“The protocol needs to be changed,” he said. “If it wasn’t for what happened, I believe she would be alive today.”

On July 25, Bower fell at her Coquitlam home. Lauwers, who lives next door, came to help, and at 5:01 p.m., her husband called 911 to report it. 

According to Lauwers, the husband asked the ambulance to come without its sirens, worried  about the neighbours.

Bower seemed fine at first, but then things started to change.

“She couldn’t remember some of her phone numbers,” Lauwers said. “I asked her to lift her arms and one was way higher than the others. Her pulse was weak. I asked her if she’d had headaches. She said she’d been having headaches for two days. I was getting more concerned.”

That's when he called 911 again, telling the dispatcher they needed more immediate help. Lauwers asked if the paramedics couldn’t come right away to send the fire department to the home.

“They said, ‘That’s not part of the protocol.’ I said, ‘I don’t care what the protocol is. I want someone here. I need some help."

Records revealed the dispatcher sent Coquitlam Fire Rescue at 7:11 p.m. that night. Lauwers said they moved Bower out of the house so when the ambulance got there she could be moved quickly. That didn’t happen until 8:07 p.m.

It took a total of three hours and six minutes from call to arrival.

“Three hours doesn’t cut it,” Lauwers said.

New protocols for dispatch systems were introduced in 2018 with BC Emergency Health Services for colour coding responses. For “purple” and “red” calls, indicating when lives are at risk, both firefighters and paramedics are dispatched automatically.

But with the “orange” calls, when patients’ injuries are classified serious but not fatal, firefighters would be less likely to be sent, as maintained to the policy.

B.C.’s provincial health officer extended these restrictions further to protect first responders from possible COVID-19 exposure earlier this year, which left firefighters to be called in for just the “purple”-coded events.

Lauwers added that when he was working, both firefighters and paramedics would be sent to more calls, adding a safety net if one agency took too long or was delayed. 

“Back in the day, we would both respond. And we would help each other,” he said.

-with files from CTV News Vancouver



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