After a 78-year-old woman fell and broke her ankle outside Penny Pincher thrift store on a bitterly cold day in December, volunteers at the store wrote to say they had serious concerns about the fact they waited for more than 30 minutes for help to arrive. BC Ambulance service says that is within the standard wait time for non-life threatening illness or injury.

Injured senior’s 33-minute wait in the cold for ambulance raises questions

BC Ambulance service says response time was standard for non-life threatening injury

Magdelena Noort is now at home, nursing a broken ankle, but she clearly recalls the fall that caused her injury, and the time she spent lying in pain on the frozen ground as she waited for help.

Noort, who is 78 years old and was on her way to Curves that morning, isn’t the only one raising questions about events surrounding her Dec. 22 fall in the parking lot of Penny Pincher thrift store on Fraser Highway.

Specifically, she wonders why it took B.C. Ambulance 33 minutes to arrive.

Several Penny Pincher volunteers working that morning came to Noort’s aid after seeing her lying on the ground.

“We called 911 immediately,” said Tina McMillan. “We brought out a pillow and blankets to keep her warm. She was in a lot of pain.”

Noort said the ladies held an umbrella over her when it started to rain.

“I heard them call 911. But nearly 40 minutes later and nothing, no ambulance came,” she said.

“They were worried I was going into shock. I was in immense pain.”

Since the women hadn’t seen an ambulance after making two calls, they phoned the Langley City Fire Hall themselves.

“The fire truck was there within minutes,” McMillan said. “They told me they were never called. They said they were just around the corner and had no idea.”

A 33-minute response time is “very standard” for that type of call, said Wendy Machana, director of patient care in the Fraser region for emergency health services.

“We recognize how stressful it can be waiting for help, as in the case of this woman, but we have to go to life-threatening injuries first,” she said. “When there is a long delay we try to work with our fire partners to be there. They are highly trained.”

Langley City Fire Chief Rory Thompson agreed that a response time of 33 minutes is “normal” for non-life-threatening calls for ambulance service.

“We were just at a call this morning and it took an ambulance an hour to arrive. This happens on a regular basis. They look at falls as non-urgent calls,” Thompson said.

“We, at City Fire Rescue, go to everything, both serious and non-life threatening. We have an older population here in Langley City and I think it is important for us to go to the full spectrum of calls,” he said.

“There is value in holding a person’s hand and being there with them until the ambulance arrives.”

Firefighters are trained in high levels of First Aid and CPR as well.

As for the delayed response to help Noort, Thompson said it doesn’t appear they (firefighters) were dispatched until 8:56 a.m. and arrived at 8:59 a.m. It’s unclear if they were dispatched initially, he said.

B.C. Ambulance has been under fire recently, following several lengthy response times in Maple Ridge and Vancouver. A Surrey mother of a murder victim is suing the province over response times.

Emergency Health Services prioritize where ambulances go, depending on the severity of the call. Cardiac arrest is the top priority where seconds count to save a life.

B.C. Ambulance representatives don’t believe there is a shortage of ambulances in Langley, nor an exorbitant number of delays for service. Machana said that Langley was provided two additional ambulances last year to handle the increase in calls. In fact, 10 ambulances were added in the region.

“We do continue to experience high call volume due to the flu season, the ice and the ongoing opioid  crisis. We triage and deploy. All patients are important to us.”

B.C. Ambulance Service spokesperson Lesley Pritchard said that they have established a 2020 action plan to address the aging population and the strain that puts on ambulance services.

“In our review, we found that there is going to be a six per cent increase in demand each year because of the aging population.

Aging patients are complex cases with multiple health issues,” she said.

One pilot project they are trying, with success, is called the HALO project, in which a paramedic is stationed in the ER to attend to patients who arrive by ambulance. If the patient is judged to be in stable condition, the ER-based paramedic can release the rest of the team to attend other calls, while he or she remains with the patient.

Under the current system, paramedics are required to stay with patients they bring to the ER until the patient is seen by a doctor. That can sometimes take hours and ties up ambulances that could be at other calls.

The Penny Pincher volunteers who helped Noort were so upset about their experience, they wrote a letter to the editor.

“I’m glad she is OK, but we hope this doesn’t happen to anyone again, to wait that long on the cold, hard cement for help,” said McMillan.

Noort said she is grateful to the women, who stayed by her side the whole time.

“When I can get out again I want to go and thank them personally,” said Noort. As someone who stays active and has been going to the Langley City Curves for 13 years, she expects to be back in action again soon.

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