A coworker quickly drove 58-year-old Noel Ashley to Princeton Hospital after he had a heart attack while working at Copper Mountain Mine on June 20, but he ended up waiting five hours to get to Penticton Hospital for treatment.
The first call to have Ashley transferred to Penticton Hospital was made shortly after 7 p.m. that evening, and after a failed attempt to have a helicopter pick him up, he was treated by HART (High Acuity Response Team) members three hours later.
The HART team, which is based out of Penticton, got Ashley to Penticton Hospital at 12:30 a.m., five hours after his transfer was requested.
“I am [upset] and I’m scared. My sister’s husband is in [Princeton Hospital] right now. He has been there ever since the mine got off work at 6 p.m.,” said family member Nicki Regimbal McIvor on a Facebook community page that night.
“[He’s] in the middle of a heart attack. It is now 9:59 p.m. and still no ambulance.”
A helicopter was called to fly Ashley to Kelowna General Hospital, where heart surgeries are performed.
But helicopters from both Vancouver and Kelowna were busy at the time, said BC Ambulance chief operating officer Les Fisher.
At 8:13 p.m., after giving up on a helicopter arriving, the HART team was called from Penticton to get Ashley.
The team got to Princeton at 10:07 p.m.- nearly two hours after they were alerted.
HART, which includes a team of critical care nurses, worked on the ill man in Princeton until 11 p.m., and made it back to Penticton at 12:30 a.m.
The five-hour wait to get Ashley to Penticton was outrageous to sister-in-law Regimbal-McIvor.
“The family waited and waited, thinking that Noel was going to pass right in front of their eyes,” she said.
The HART ambulance is used so doctors and nurses are able to stay in Princeton, and not have to travel with patients to Penticton.
Usually a doctor and nurse need to accompany a patient in an ambulance, leaving the hospital without sufficient coverage.
The ambulance is equipped with gear to treat heart attack patients on the way to Penticton Hospital.
HART team members took nearly an hour to leave Princeton Hospital because they were getting Ashley ready for transport, such as checking his vital signs, said Fisher.
But Regimbal-McIvor would rather her brother-in-law be at Penticton Hospital as soon as possible in a regular ambulance, instead of having to wait for the HART ambulance to make its way to Princeton.
Ashley was originally supposed to go to Kelowna Hospital because Penticton Hospital doesn’t do heart surgeries. A woman requiring immediate heart surgery was airlifted to Kelowna earlier this month.
But emergency personnel were forced to find another way to get Ashley to a hospital.
“They then tried to look into other options. Those discussions went on for a little over an hour,” Fisher said
Based on Ashley ending up going to Penticton instead of for surgery in Kelowna, Fisher said the urgency in his situation had likely decreased.
But Ashley’s situation turned out to be serious. He was soon sent to Kelowna, where he received three stents in his heart and found out he had a major heart attack, said Regimbal-McIvor.
“Thank God he lasted those four hours plus the time it took to travel to Penticton. I want to know why [Interior Health Authority] told us we were safe and that they had helicopters and HART vans to transport quickly,” Regimbal-McIvor said.
“I don’t consider a four-hour wait time appropriate in any way. This is unacceptable.”