A mix-up involving paramedics caused chaos for an area family last Wednesday morning.
BC Ambulance Services has launched a full inquiry into how a critical message about meeting a patient and nurse enroute to Princeton General Hospital was missed, resulting in paramedics being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“We have some high level understanding that some miscommunication occurred,” Linda Lupini, executive vice president of Provincial Health Services Authority and British Columbia Emergency Health Services, told The Spotlight in a telephone interview Monday.
“I understand a nurse and a first responder who had a potential stroke patient made an arrangement through dispatch to meet a crew in transit…My understanding is the crew didn’t clearly understand where they needed to go…or something went wrong in the communication,” said Lupini. She said the problem could have originated with a human or systems error.
The incident occurred October 2nd about 10:30 a.m. A 70-year-old resident of Princeton-Summerland Road was hunting near his home when he became ill.
Chris Ross, who lives nearby and is the First Dispatch Officer for the Arris Volunteer Fire Association, told the Spotlight the man’s wife feared he was suffering a stroke.
“He got his buck and he cleaned his buck and he said to his wife ‘I think I’m going to sit down and rest I don’t feel too good,’ and then he looked at his hands and said: ‘Did I shoot a deer? Did I just gut a deer?’
“She knew right way something was not right. She got him in the truck, left everything there and got him to our place,” said Ross.
By chance, another neighbor and Licensed Practical Nurse was visiting the Ross home at the time. She took charge, dialed 911, and assessed the patient.
Within seconds Ross’s phone rang – it was the 911 operator from Kelowna calling Ross in her capacity as a first response dispatcher.
“They said ‘We have a medical emergency’ and I said ‘Yes, I know, because I have the patient in my driveway.’”
Both Ross and the LPN spoke with 911. Still fearing a stroke, the LPN felt there was no time to waste and she headed for the hospital with the patient and his wife.
Ross said both women told 911 “they are going to be on their way to the hospital and for the ambulance to meet them partway on the road. Look for an inbound small blue truck with a white canopy and four way flashers.”
According to the Heart and Stroke foundation at the first sign of a stroke time is of the essence. For every minute of delay in treatment people typically lose almost two million brain cells.
The drive from Ross’ home to Princeton hospital is 28 km. On the narrow and winding Princeton Summerland Road the trip takes about 30 minutes at 80 km an hour.
Despite the fact that the truck pulled to the side of the road when the driver saw flashing lights, the ambulance did not stop. “They had already pulled over with their four flashers on and hands waving and the ambulance just blew right by them with lights and sirens and came to our place,” said Ross.
Lupini said it was obvious the paramedics “were trying to do the right thing…Obviously it was that crew’s intention to go as quickly to the call as possible. What I understand is the crew was speeding in a Code Three response to an address and their understanding was they were going to that address.”
The patient was driven by his wife the rest of the way to Princeton General, where he was assessed and referred to Penticton General Hospital. With no other ambulance available his wife and nurse friend had to drive him there.
Lupini said the unavailability of a second ambulance for the patient transfer is “absolutely part” of the BCEHS inquiry into the incident. “There wasn’t an ambulance…they might have immediately responded to something else.”
The patient was diagnosed with a sudden and temporary amnesia, treated for approximately 8 hours, and released. He is still recovering, according to Ross.
Ross said she worries about getting prompt medical attention living so far from town, and she has little confidence in BC Ambulance Service.
“I’ll tell you right now if something happens out there and I need an ambulance I’m getting my husband just to take me to Penticton on the back road. If I have to sit out there and wait for the bloody ambulance to come out and bring me to Princeton and then the whole way back to Penticton – no, I’d be dead,” she said.
There is a small cluster of homes near the Ross residence – between fifteen and twenty houses – and most of the people living there are seniors or over 50, she said. There are also some families with small children.
“He could have died,” said Ross, “right there on that road waiting for the ambulance. And they blew right by them.”
Lupini said the full review of the incident should be completed in a few days. “We like to expedite things in case like this, in case we do have some sort of systems issue.”