Health care advocate group to review EMS response to fatal dog attack

The Health Quality Council of Alberta will try to unravel why it took 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at the scene

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A three-month review of a dog attack that killed an 86-year-old Calgary woman will be carried out independently by a provincial health care advocacy group, it was announced Friday.

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Nearly two weeks after Betty Ann Williams was fatally mauled by three dogs outside her Capitol Hill residence, it was revealed the Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA) will seek to unravel why it took 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at the scene.

The body’s independence from Alberta Health Services and government ministry Alberta Health makes it suitable to carry out the task, which is expected to deliver a report in September, said AHS, which has already been conducted an internal probe of the incident.

“AHS believes that an independent review is needed to ensure that any opportunities for improvement are identified,” Alberta Health Services said in a statement.

“Every effort will be made to complete the review quickly. Results will be shared publicly.”

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Said HQCA CEO Charlene McBrien-Morrison: “The HQCA will bring an objective, evidence-based analysis. We will identify if there are broader health system factors that contributed to the incident and will make recommendations for any improvement opportunities.”

Protocols, structure and processes as well as system factors linked to the “extended response time” will be reviewed, said AHS, which has indicated it will be conducting a quality assurance review to identify areas that can be strengthened.

AHS said the review will be bolstered by two outside experts, BC Emergency Health Services’ Systems and Strategy Officer Kevin Smith and Kim Ridgen-Briscall, associate director of the International Academy of Emergency Dispatch (IAED). Smith is also the former chief paramedic of Niagara.

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On June 4, Williams was gardening outside her Capitol Hill home in the city’s northwest when she was attacked by three dogs that had escaped from a neighbor’s backyard.

Neighbors who called 911 and comforted the mortally injured Williams — more commonly known as Rusty — said they asked for paramedics to respond. AHS says, however, the call was labeled as a non-life-threatening dog bite and dispatch was triaged accordingly from there.

AHS later confirmed that at the time of the 911 call, Calgary was in “red alert” — issued when there are no ambulances available to respond to emergency calls in a jurisdiction.

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At the time of the call, 18 ambulances were waiting to off-load patients at various medical facilities, with paramedics waiting to transfer care, crews readying to return to duty after dropping a patient off or ambulances just arriving at a facility.

One Calgary Zone paramedic said the reasons for the problems within the EMS system that “fails the public daily” are well-known – too many trivial calls handled by ambulances and too much triaging done by their crews who spend too much time waiting in hospitals.

“Staff morale and support is appalling when they see the lies our leadership spins to the public,” said the paramedic, who chose to remain anonymous.

“To blame covid or an unprecedented call volume are lies…people die because of ambulance delays and have significantly worse outcomes.”

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A neighbour, of Williams who Postmedia has agreed to identify only as Nicola, called 911 immediately after the attack and said she felt unjustly blamed for not emphasizing the urgency of the situation.

But interim AHS President Mauro Chies further emphasized that it wasn’t the case and expressed gratitude for her efforts.

Nicola said she’s glad an independent body is being tasked to review the incident but questioned if anything will change.

“Will anything really come out of it? Is the government going to be willing to put more money into the system?” she said, while questioning why it will take until September to complete the review.

“People are going to forget about it by then.”

Nicola said while she’s been contacted by police, no one from AHS has interviewed her about what happened that day, adding she’s receiving psychiatric therapy after witnessing the aftermath of the dog attack.

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City police are investigating the incident while the city’s Community Standards has reserved the dogs.

The animals, which might be euthanized, are also being held as part of the investigation, said police.

Despite Postmedia’s request to receive a copy of the 911 calls, city officials said they are unable to release them because the police investigation is ongoing.

Nicola said she’s also asked to see a 911 transcript, to no avail.

Meanwhile, a Gofundme page to help fund Williams’ funeral has been set up by two people, one of them the woman’s niece who lived with her at the time of her death.

“Rusty served our country (in the military) proudly. She had endured cancer two times and recently in the last couple of months was in remission,” stated the Gofundme page.

“She was ready to live her golden years cancer free. She was as big as a minute, 85 pounds soaking wet … she may have been small in stature, but her personality made her larger than life.”

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Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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