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Woman Dies of Asthma Attack Right Outside of Hospital

— November 22, 2018

Woman Dies of Asthma Attack Right Outside of Hospital

Officials at the parent company of Somerville Hospital have apologized publicly for not meeting “our own standards for transparency and accountability’’ in the death of Laura Levis, who went to the emergency room during in 2016 while suffering from an asthma attack and found the door locked.  In a statement, Cambridge Health Alliance pledged to improve its emergency medical response protocols.

Levis’s husband, Peter DeMarco, provided details regarding Levis’s asthma attack on the morning of Sept. 16, 2016, saying she made it to Somerville Hospital, but she never made it inside.  DeMarco detailed the communication errors, overworked staff, and overall lack of fail safes that contributed to the tragedy.  The woman was not seen by a nurse who actually peered briefly outside while she was standing there.

Woman Dies of Asthma Attack Right Outside of Hospital
Photo by Natanael Melchor on Unsplash

Levis tried one door to the emergency room, but it was locked, so she dialed 911.  A dispatcher called the emergency room to say a woman seeking help was outside.  When EMTs arrived, Levis’ heart had already stopped and she died one week later.

“I was led to believe that Laura had never made it to the ER, that she had never come close to it; she had collapsed on the street leading to the hospital or perhaps in a back parking lot,” DeMarco said.  “I was told that when I got to the ER [the night of the incident].  No one at Cambridge Health Alliance ever told me otherwise.”

DeMarco learned the full story of what happened from a report by Somerville Police Detective James Slattery.  Levis’ uncle requested a copy of the report.  He couldn’t believe an asthma attack had taken her life, especially right outside of the hospital, and needed more information.

“Were it not for [Slattery] writing a report about where he found Laura, I would never have known,” DeMarco said.  After finding out, he obtained his wife’s medical records. “It said she was found in cardiac arrest on the sidewalk,” he said. “The report also said ‘she was having trouble finding the ER.’  That was one sentence in 150 pages or more of medical records.”

Until this latest statement, the Alliance had not answered any of DeMarco’s questions, he said, “I have repeatedly asked them to answer questions about Laura’s care and about what they’re doing to make sure this never happens again.”

In a statement, the Alliance said it “did not meet our own high standards for transparency and accountability with Mr. DeMarco and Ms. Levis’ family.  It should not have taken an event like this for us to identify and resolve a number of structural, training and communication issues…In this instance, we could have done better, and we will do better.  There are no words to effectively express our sorrow over the loss of Ms. Levis.  More importantly, for the role we played in compounding her family’s grief, we are deeply sorry.”

The Alliance has improved signs, lighting, and access to the emergency room, as well as put new communication and cooperation protocols into place between its emergency room clinical staff and guards. In December 2017, the Alliance agreed to pay a fine of $90,000 to the Department of Health and Human Services for Levis’ mistreatment.


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