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Another Woman Dies After Extended ER Wait Time, Family Calls for Health System Reform

Another Nova Scotia woman has died after waiting for hours at an emergency room before she gave up and left. Now her family is gathering stories of similar cases to push for a change in the province’s health care system.

“I was sad. But now? Now I’m mad,” said Katherine Snow on Nova Scotia Healthcare Crisis, a website she created after the recent death of her mother-in-law, Charlene.

Charlene visited the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in the early afternoon of Dec. 30, 2022, seeking treatment for “jaw pain and flu-like symptoms.”

“It is our understanding she was triaged,” said Snow, a resident of Port Caledonia, a small community in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. She said Charlene had been updating family and friends throughout the day about how busy it was in the ER.

After waiting for seven hours, Charlene at the time found it unbearable to remain in the ER. Inquiring about when she could see a doctor, Charlene was told that she would likely have to wait until the next morning, the website said.

The 67-year-old woman, however, died within the hour after her husband picked her up at the hospital and drove home, Snow said.

“The idea that perhaps her life could have been saved adds an excruciating layer to the grief of a sudden death,” Snow wrote, noting that she has requested a report on the decisions that led to the lack of assessment for Charlene on the evening of Dec. 30.

Snow said she understands the challenges for health care workers, and that mistakes “are inevitable.” But she said the health care system is “broken” and needs to be examined.

“I can’t imagine working in a system so broken with sweeping bureaucratic and policy changes at every turn, understaffed shifts and the tremendous responsibility of assessing the lives in the waiting room,” she wrote.

“We were robbed—and it’s time that we are offered significantly better options for emergency care.”

The Epoch Times reached out to the Cape Breton Regional Hospital for comment, but didn’t hear back immediately.

Rising ER Deaths

Charlene is the second woman in Nova Scotia recently reported to have waited for an extended period of time at an emergency room and died from lack of treatment.

Allison Holthoff, a 37-year-old woman, died in hospital on New Year’s Eve, after she waited seven hours after being taken to the emergency room at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre in Amherst, Nova Scotia.

Michelle Thompson, minister of Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and Wellness, said in a Jan. 9 statement that Holthoff’s death was a “tragic loss,” and that an investigation was underway to determine what has happened.

Thompson has also sent condolences to Charlene’s family, Global News reported on Jan. 12. An initial review to look into Charlene’s case is also underway, according to Thompson’s email statement to the news agency.

In her statement, the minister acknowledged that Nova Scotia’s health care system has been under strain.

“I know the healthcare system has been under immense pressure for some time, including the wait times in emergency departments. I want Nova Scotians to know we are committed to getting answers. Despite the pressure, I am urging Nova Scotians: please continue to seek care when you need it,” Thompson wrote.

The number of deaths in Nova Scotia’s emergency rooms has climbed by 10 percent in 2022 from the previous year, which a health expert said was “not unexpected.”

“Any death is not what we want, but the number [of deaths] based on what we saw in 2022 is not unexpected,” Alyson Lamb, executive director of health services with Nova Scotia Health’s western zone, told The Canadian Press.

Health data obtained by the Nova Scotia NDP through a freedom of information request shows 558 people died in emergency departments across the province last year, up from 505 in 2021. That figure, covering Nova Scotia’s four health zones from 2017 through 2022, shows that last year’s death toll was also the highest during those six years.

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Chen

Andrew Chen is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.

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