Emergency services failed stroke victim
Scott Beebe died March 11 after suffering a stroke May 5, and his spouse Colleen Fortier still has questions about how emergency services handled her 9-1-1 call.
Fortier said she accepts what happened and doesn’t blame anyone for Beebe’s death.
But she wants people to know what does and, unfortunately, doesn’t happen when you dial 9-1-1.
Beebe had complained at the end of January of a “funny feeling” in his head and went to Northumberland Hills Hospital, Fortier said. Staff examined him and said he may have had a small stroke. Tests included a CT scan and an MRI but found everything to be normal. But the numbness remained._
On March 5, Fortier arrived at the couple’s Forest Hill Drive home at about 6:45 p.m. and found Beebe on the basement floor, conscious, with a cordless phone nearby. She immediately called 9-1-1 to say her husband had slurred speech, couldn’t get up and was having a stroke.
Fortier has since checked text messages and believes Beebe had been lying there for about one hour.
While Northumberland County EMS refused to provide the times of Fortier’s calls, Fortier said she was given them.
Her first 9-1-1 call was received by EMS at 6:49 p.m., and she called again about 10 minutes later when no emergency services personnel had arrived.
The dispatcher told her it had only been six minutes since the first call, but Fortier could see it was longer.
While comforting her husband, Fortier kept running up the stairs to look for any sign of the paramedics. The ambulance arrived at 7:07 p.m. from the east — 18 minutes after the first 9-1-1 call.
(Driving from Northumberland County EMS headquarters on William Street in Cobourg to the home it took 5 minutes and 31 seconds under normal driving conditions, stopping at three red lights.)
Fortier said the emergency lights on the ambulance were activated, but she felt it was “weird” she didn’t hear any sirens. When she saw the ambulance pull into her driveway, it was with a sense of relief.
“But when two women came out of the bus (ambulance) my heart sank,” she said. “I thought, they’re not going to be able to lift him up the stairs, but I thought I’m sure it’s part of their job.”
It wasn’t that Beebe wasn’t a physically fit man; he was, weighing approximately 185 pounds.
Just for peace of mind, Fortier asked one of the paramedics, “do you want me to get my neighbours to help you lift him up the stairs?”
But the paramedic assured her they had a special chair to strap him in and lift him up the flight of stairs.
Fortier’s worst fears came true when they couldn’t carry him up the stairs.
It was only then that they radioed for the Baltimore Fire Department to attend for a lift assist.
“I just assumed the fire department would show up. It never dawned on me that I needed to ask for them,” said Fortier. “If I had known I would have said (to the 9-1-1 dispatcher) you need to send the fire department.”
Bob Grandy, freedom of information screening co-ordinator with the Port Hope Police Service whichdispatches Hamilton Township Fire Department, said the fire department was dispatched at 7:24 p.m. — 35 minutes after the initial 9-1-1 call.
The first fire truck arrived at the home at 7:33 p.m.
Fortier said it took four firefighters to lift Beebe up the stairs.
The ambulance left the house at 7:47 p.m., just shy of an hour from the initial 9-1-1 call.
Fortier believes both paramedics are trained for the positions, but contacted Northumberland Today to educate others about what happened so they know in an emergency.
Once Beebe was loaded into the ambulance, Fortier learned he would be taken to a hospital in Peterborough instead of Cobourg because Peterborough has special medicine to treat stroke victims.
They arrived in Peterborough at 8:22 p.m.
Looking back, Fortier said it would have been quicker for her to drive him to a hospital in Peterborough or Toronto than to call 9-1-1.
At the hospital, staff were hesitant to give Beebe the drug because there is a 4.5-hour window from the time of the stroke to when the drug is to be given.
“The danger is if you give it after you can actually cause brain bleeds,” Fortier said. “Getting to the hospital is crucial.”
Beebe was placed in the intensive care unit and Fortier was assured he was stable so she went home at about 2 a.m.
She returned the next morning to find his left side was completely paralyzed, but he asked if she had put the garbage out, so Fortier knew he was okay.
Beebe would have looked at his rehabilitation as a challenge, she said.
“In our minds we’re going to get to Cobourg and go for therapy,” she recalled. “The doctor called in Cobourg and said we’re ready for him when he is ready.”
But on Monday, March 11, Beebe had a seizure and never recovered.
The hospital had told her that stroke victims have a high risk of seizures.
“He wasn’t put on seizure medication (which would have been for life) because he was doing so well,” Fortier said. “He was so young, and he had no high blood pressure, no high cholesterol or family history of strokes.”
Looking back, it’s the “what-ifs” that remain with Fortier.
“I wish I had phoned some people to come to the house. I wish I’d known the fire services don’t show up to every call.
“If I, a 50-year-old untrained person, know they are not going to be able to lift him up the stairs why didn’t they know that right away?”
While Northumberland County chief director for Emergency Medical Services Tarmo Uukkivi said he can’t speak specifically about an incident because of privacy regulations he said this call was reviewed.
“We are confident that our responders followed correct procedures and that they provided the service that they are trained to provide, to the best of their ability,” Uukkivi stated in an e-mail. “In fact, the paramedics went above what was required of them.
“Our review of the call indicates that the actions of all emergency responder met or exceeded high service standards.”
Fortier has a different perspective.
“I think (people) have a lot of blind faith,” she said. “Now that I know, I would have asked a lot more questions.”
Fortier realizes that the fire department wouldn’t have been able to treat Beebe medically, but it haunts her that he sat at the bottom of the stairs for minutes as the paramedics waited for help.
“The only difference would have been the 10 minutes he had to wait for them to come,” Fortier said. “And I know that the 10 minutes might not have saved his life. I know that. But he had to sit there for 10 minutes more and suffer.”
Since getting the response from the Northumberland County EMS director, Fortier still has more questions than answers.
“If EMS feels they responded correctly and went above what was required, does that mean if my neighbour has a stroke tomorrow, they will handle it the same way?
“I hope not!”