‘Never should have happened:’ 78-year-old woman dies in Cobourg, Ont., hospital foyer

Click to play video: 'Witness blames death of woman at Cobourg hospital on slow response'
Witness blames death of woman at Cobourg hospital on slow response
WATCH ABOVE: Patrick Ahern says an ambulance was called to respond to the collapse of an elderly woman at a regional hospital rather than on-site staff. Mark Carcasole reports – May 18, 2017

Northumberland Hills Hospital in Cobourg, Ont., has completed an internal review of emergency procedures after the apparent death of an elderly woman in the regional health facility’s front foyer earlier this month.

“This is a terrible situation that I feel never should have happened,” witness Patrick Ahern told Global News.

Ahern and his girlfriend Joeline Cabanaw were walking toward the hospital to visit a patient on May 9 when they watched an ambulance, sirens blaring, pull up to the building’s front entrance. That’s where they noticed a 78-year-old woman had collapsed on the ground.

“It was quite evident to see that this woman was vital signs absent,” said Ahern, a former OPP auxillary officer.

“We arrive there (and) EMS start compressions; they’re trying to perform lifesaving CPR on this woman in the front foyer of a hospital … where is the medical team that’s involved with the hospital?”

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“I just felt for that poor woman and her husband who was hovering over her body – helpless,” recalled Cabanaw.

Ahern estimates it would’ve been a three to five minute span before paramedics could arrive. Time the couple says could’ve been used to provide immediate aid had hospital staff been notified.

The woman’s family identified her as Joyce Devonshire of Port Hope, Ont.

Her son said she suffered a heart attack while going to the hospital for a routine appointment.

Hospital protocol doesn’t allow for volunteers, such as the person at the front desk of a hospital, to deliver care, but volunteers can call in alerts like a code blue, which is used when a patient’s heart stops. That would have put a process in place to get immediate medical attention for the woman from within the building; getting her into the nearby emergency room much sooner.

“Someone not breathing, not responding, that’s the difference between life and death,” said Ahern.

“Unfortunately for this poor woman and her family it resulted in the latter.”

In the immediate aftermath, the hospital’s CEO insisted that volunteers here did what they were instructed to do by calling for help.

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But the hospital’s President and CEO Linda Davis won’t talk about whether it was the right kind of help.

“I can’t speak to the particular incident,” she said, citing privacy requirements.

“There are situations when Emergency Management Services are called to assist. That occurs in other hospitals. And so from that perspective, there are times when we use EMS,” Davis said.

Deeming the situation “unusual,” Davis had hospital staff and management launch and internal review of the hospital’s response last week. The results were released Wednesday and there are seven recommendations:

1. Refresh education to all NHH staff and volunteers on the existing hospital policy directing the use of the existing 5555 telephone service to report emergencies on hospital property, regardless of where they occur
2. Instruct staff and volunteers to ‘err on the side of caution’ when calling emergency codes – they can be easily cancelled if found they are not required
3. Instruct volunteers to reach out to closest available staff if immediate assistance is required, so that a staff member may take over
4. Remind staff located at/near all entrances of their role to assist volunteers should they be in need of assistance
5. Add regular emergency code exercises in hospital entrance ways and parking lots to existing mock emergency training
6. Place prominent Emergency? Dial 5555 stickers on specified phones
7. Review the current process regarding emergency preparedness education for volunteers and staff during orientation and enhance as required

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Ahern said he’s not a medical expert, but the recommendations should do more to change procedures that he said are “failed.”

“If that’s the best we can do, we’ve failed,” he said.

“We’ve failed as a system, we’ve failed as a hospital, and if we’re going to allow that and accept that — we’ve failed as a community.”

READ MORE: Family asking questions after son dies following Surrey hospital ER visit

Ahern said he remains in touch with the family of the woman and heard they’re seeking legal advice.

Meanwhile, Devonshire’s son described her as someone who was always active in her community by doing fundraising work for local initiatives as well as working for the Province of Ontario and Town of Scarborough as it was known then.

The family said she leaves behind an 80-year-old husband and that she was also a grandmother and great grandmother.

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