British Columbia is pledging changes to its 911 dispatch system after an investigation found response delays may have contributed to a Vancouver woman’s death.
Tracy Gundersen, a 56-year-old who struggled with addiction issues, died Nov. 8, 2018, after suffering a hemorrhage at her Downtown Eastside apartment.
It took first responders 35 minutes to access her unit, after being stymied by a locked elevator in her building which required master keys carried by firefighters to open.
Firefighters were not initially deployed to the scene as a part of the call.
“She wasn’t alive when they got through the door,” Gundersen’s daughter Chelsea Brent told Global News.
“Fire attendance right away could have made the difference to her life, or at least she wouldn’t have died alone,” she added.
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“In the old system, this wouldn’t have played out the way it did. Fire would have been dispatched immediately with my mom’s severity of a call and (paramedics) would have had access immediately with fire’s assistance.”
BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) reorganized how 911 calls were prioritized in May 2018; at the time, some firefighters warned that it meant fire crews would not be automatically dispatched to some serious calls.
An independent review ordered by Health Minister Adrian Dix has now made 14 recommendations, after concluding there were “several areas in which assumptions and lack of communication could have contributed to delays in reaching the patient.”
A full list of the recommended changes, most of which focus on improved communication between first responders, can be found on page 20 of the report. Dix has committed to implementing all of them.
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“This is a tragic case and we appreciate the cooperation of the family throughout the review,” said Dix in a statement, adding that the recommendations were being forwarded to BCEHS and other first responders.
“The Ministry of Health will work to support the implementation of the recommendations which are focused on ensuring clear and robust processes to gain rapid access to multi-unit buildings and better communication between agencies for emergency cases.”
Among the report’s recommendations is that fire departments be dispatched in any case where there is any “suspicion of access delay” to the scene.
It recommends improving policy and procedures to ensure 911 dispatchers have key information about emergency scenes, and that first responders have clear processes to gain access to multi-unit buildings.
Vancouver Fire Rescue Services issued a statement saying it supports the investigation’s findings.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of Tracey Gundersen, and do not want a tragedy like this to happen again,” said Vancouver Fire Chief Darrell Reid.
“VFRS should be dispatched to any emergency where our trained teams and fast response times can improve patient outcomes. This includes building access issues and other challenges which we are equipped and trained to overcome.”
Brent said she’s spoken to Minister Dix about the report’s conclusions, and said she’s “very pleased with it.”
She added that she’s hopeful about the recommendations, particularly those that would see firefighters automatically deployed in certain cases.
“I want to make it very clear that no matter where you come from, if its the Downtown Eastside or you own a $5 million home in Point Grey that your care is the same, that no one deserves to call 911 and not receive the help that they ask for.”