EMS apologizes for mistakes dispatching ambulance

An Ashern man who needed an ambulance for his dying wife says emergency medical responders apologized to him for mistakes made during the 911 call.
Ashern rancher Garth Monk says his horses remind him of the loss of his wife, Bernice, who died last year. They waited more than an hour after calling an ambulance, but Monk says an autopsy showed paramedics wouldn't have been able to save her. Still, EMS apologized for the delay. (CBC)

An Ashern man who needed an ambulance for his dying wife says emergency medical responders apologized to him for mistakes made during the 911 call.

Garth Monk said it started one day last October, when his wife, Bernice, sprained her ankle. Then suddenly, she had trouble breathing.

"She just couldn't breathe," he said. "She couldn't get her breath."

The doctor gave her allergy medication, but a few days later, she only felt worse.

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"She yelled, she told us to call (911)," he said. "Bernice never said that before. She said 'Garth, call an ambulance, I'm not going to make the hospital.' She got really weak all of a sudden. I knew we were in trouble."

Monk phoned for an ambulance, about 15 minutes away in Ashern.

"The lady on the phone said 'They're coming, they're coming.'"

Monk later learned the ambulance was not on the way — a dispatcher in Brandon made a mistake.

"The ambulance was dispatched to the wrong location by a long shot, far far away," he said.

Monk called 911 again and a second ambulance was dispatched from Ashern.

But it was during a shift change and that caused a delay. Monk said when it finally did hit the road, it couldn't find their farm. He said his son went out to the highway to try to track it down. During this time, his wife was only getting worse, and she was frantic.

"She was very panicked that they weren't coming," he said. "She was really, really scared that they weren't here. She started turning all blue, her face all got blue, and I started to worry really bad. When it's half an hour and an hour, you start to wonder, are they going to come?"

More than an hour after his first call, Monk said an ambulance arrived, but his wife, he said, was already gone.

Family doesn't blame EMS but did get apology

An autopsy showed blood clots from Bernice's leg had lodged in her lungs, and paramedics would not have been able to save her. Monk said he accepts that and doesn't blame them.

"Nothing would've helped Bernice. Nothing in the world would've helped her," he said. "If Bernice would've been in a helpable situation, I would've felt really pissed off. But nothing could've helped her with clots coming in to her lungs over four days. It wasn't the ambulance's fault that Bernice is not here. Not at all. Not one little bit of it."

Monk said Manitoba Emergency Medical Services apologized to him, though.

"They felt bad that they were late, they really did," he said. "They told me they were definitely going to work on the shift changes," he said. "And that dispatch lady, they removed her immediately from her position."

Bernice Monk died Oct. 2, 2012. Monk said his wife loved her horses. Now they remind him she's gone.

"Her horses were more important than anyone else in her life," he laughed.

He said he misses her companionship, and her hard work on the family's cattle farm.

"Probably everybody who's lost a wife knows what it's like. It's not good. You don't know how much work they do til they're gone," he said. "You think they did three per cent of the work. But you find out they did 97 per cent and you did the three."

Manitoba Health said it can't comment in detail, but it did say this case was not flagged as a critical incident, which means no investigation was launched after it occurred. 

Gerry Delorme, executive director of health emergency management, said in a high-priority case, a decision can be made to send an air or helicopter ambulance.

In addition, he said, when someone calls 911, the person on the other end of the phone is a paramedic who provides medical advice and support until the ambulance arrives.


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