A New Westminster, B.C., man wants answers after his sister suffered a stroke, waited more than an hour for an ambulance, and is now partially paralyzed.
Lorrie Williams, a former councillor for the Lower Mainland city, showed signs of a stroke while at home with friends after 8 p.m. on Aug. 6. One of her guests — a retired doctor — dialled 911 “within 90 seconds,” said her brother, but an ambulance did not arrive for another hour and nine minutes.
“It was over two hours before she got to the Royal Columbian (Hospital) and it’s three blocks away from her home,” Allan Greenwood told Global News. “Why did this take so long to happen?
“One of the big questions I have is, what is higher priority than a stroke?”
In an emailed statement, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) confirmed it received a call in the 400-block of Kelly Street, where Williams lives, at 8:09 p.m. that day. The call was initially coded as ‘orange’ — a lights and sirens response — but was upgraded to red based on new information at 9:14 p.m.
Paramedics arrived at 9:18 p.m.
“We are reviewing our response to this call, however, we do know that at the time, many of our paramedics were responding to other very urgent medical emergencies in the area and the first ambulance that became available was dispatched,” wrote BCEHS.
It apologized to the patient and family for the delay.
Williams is now paralyzed on the left side of her body, said her brother, and the long-term prognosis is unknown. While it’s not clear the partial paralysis is related to the delay in getting to the hospital, Greenwood said he can’t help but wonder.
“You don’t need to be a medical doctor to know that an hour or more delay before she had brain surgery was going to complicate things, make things worse,” he said. “It just seems unforgivable.
“I don’t know who is responsible for this. I know it’s not the people in the ambulance service — I’m sure they’re just trying to do their jobs — but who are the people above that?”
Prince William and Kate Middleton booed while attending Boston Celtics game
NYC is looking for ‘bloodthirsty’ rat czar — and the job pays $228,000
Leanne Heppell, chief ambulance officer, said the organization’s “heart goes out to the family,” and BCEHS would like to “sit down with the family and review the case with them.”
“During that (patient’s) call period, we did get an update that the condition had changed so at that point, we re-coded based on the new information that we got, and we had an ambulance there within four minutes of the re-coding of the incident,” the BCEHS executive vice-president said in an interview.
The service provider conducts call-backs on a regular basis to check on patient condition, she added, and adjusts the dispatch codes accordingly based on an international coding system.
Greenwood’s is not the first family to complain of ambulance delays in the province.
Troy Clifford, president of Ambulance Paramedics of BC, has previously raised alarm bells on a “provincewide staffing crisis” in the sector that has left many communities without sufficient ambulance coverage for long periods of time.
Heppell said recent “major investments” have targeted that shortage and the organization is hiring new full-time employees, adding more ambulances to the road, and making improvements to both air ambulance services and dispatch centres.
“Like all of health care, we’ve undergone some major stress in the last little while,” she said.
“Obviously the COVID crisis that has been going on for the last couple of years, the overdose crisis has hit an all-time high … in addition to that, we’re also dealing with a number of natural disasters.”
Meanwhile, Williams is still in recovery. With an extensive record of volunteer and community service, the former councillor of 16 years was named New Westminster’s Citizen of the Year in 2019.
She is affiliated with the Sapperton Pensioners Association, the New Westminster Symphony Orchestra, the Royal City Humane Society, the Royal Columbian Hospital Auxiliary, the Royal City Rotary, and the Lookout Housing and Health Society. She also created the Canadian Harambee Education Society in East Africa, and has held multiple teaching positions.
She once posed naked in a calendar to raise funds for a women’s shelter and officiated a wedding for dogs as a provincial marriage commissioner in 2009.
Greenwood said his sister, while “trying her best” to keep spirits high and make progress through physiotherapy, is “kind of depressed.”
“She’s done a lot for this community, she’s been very active — she’s still very active,” he said. “We’ve been paying taxes all these years and when you need that service, it’s not there.”
He said cases like Williams, involving ambulance delay, are likely to happen again unless “something is fixed,” and there must be accountability from the top.
– with files from Global News Catherine Urquhart