Nova Scotia

Dartmouth man, 86, lay in driveway for 3 hours waiting for ambulance

Ross O'Brien lay in his driveway for more than three hours after falling and breaking his hip Monday — and then it was a police vehicle, rather than an ambulance, that took him to hospital.

Police ended up driving Ross O'Brien to hospital where he was to receive surgery for a broken hip

Ross O'Brien, right, poses for a photo with his wife, Janet O'Brien. After falling and breaking his hip, Ross O'Brien lay in his driveway for 3 hours waiting for an ambulance. (Janet O'Brien/Facebook)

An 86-year-old Nova Scotia man lay in his driveway waiting for an ambulance for more than three hours Monday after breaking his hip, only to be taken to hospital in a police vehicle after an officer told the family they would be waiting another two hours for paramedics.

Ross O'Brien lives roughly five kilometres from Dartmouth General Hospital. 

But an ambulance had to be dispatched from Parrsboro, N.S., located about 175 kilometres from their home, said his wife, Janet O'Brien.

The O'Brien family wants answers — not only about why they would have to wait five hours for an ambulance, but why that wasn't communicated to them.

"I can't imagine him being there two more hours," Janet O'Brien said. "This is just not right — to be there laying on a driveway and telling you not to move him, but that's all they would tell me."  

A report released in March 2021 found that paramedics and ambulances were getting tied up in non-emergency situations, leading to delays in call times. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

She called 911 around 4 p.m. AT on Monday, almost immediately after her husband lost his footing outside their home on Leaman Drive in Dartmouth. Pain radiated from his lower body and they correctly assumed he'd broken his hip. 

But they were also concerned about his heart as he has congestive heart failure and a pacemaker, his wife said. He was bleeding from several cuts. 

'Why shouldn't we know that?'

"This is our health system that we've been paying all our life for, and this is what he gets," she said. "Not telling us that they're not going to be here for five hours. I mean, why shouldn't we know that?"  

Their neighbours had gathered to help, bringing pillows, a blanket and first-aid supplies. Beverly Wile said she and another neighbour called the police. 

At the same time, a family member who is a nurse arrived and assessed Ross O'Brien. She felt it was safe to move him, so two police officers gently placed him in the front seat of their vehicle and drove him to hospital.

O'Brien, shown here with his wife, Janet, and their grandkids, was to undergo surgery Tuesday night. (Janet O'Brien/Facebook)

"They stayed with him, both police officers," said Janet O'Brien, who spoke to CBC News from the hospital. "They were very kind and very good and stayed with him until he was in the room."

Her husband was scheduled to have hip replacement surgery Tuesday evening.

"Yesterday was a nightmare," she said. "People just can't believe that could happen."

'Code critical'

The experience reflects the findings of a 2019 audit of Nova Scotia's ambulance services released this spring, namely that paramedics are spending too much time in non-emergency activities, like waiting for patients to be admitted at emergency rooms.

It's an issue patients and paramedics have continued to raise. On Tuesday, the union representing paramedics in the province issued a statement, saying that at least three times since July 28 there's only been a maximum of two ambulances available per county in mainland Nova Scotia.

They describe the situation as "code critical."

WATCH | Injured 86-year-old Nova Scotia man waited 3 hours for ambulance:

N.S. senior spent hours on the driveway waiting for ambulance

2 months ago
1:58
An 86-year-old Nova Scotia man lay on his driveway with a broken hip for three hours waiting for an ambulance and his family wants to know why it was sent from 175 kilometres away. 1:58

Nova Scotia Health and Emergency Health Services, which provides ambulance service in the province, issued a joint statement to CBC News.

Neither organization would address what happened in Ross O'Brien's case, but did say that Nova Scotia Health is experiencing a high number of emergency department visits, which is resulting in longer wait times for care.  

"The current situation is having an impact on patient access to care (wait for service) and patient flow (movement into and out of the health-care facilities) across the province," the statement said. The delays are mostly affecting care in the Halifax Regional Municipality. 

Pilot project

Before the provincial election was called, the governing Liberals had approved a $3-million pilot project to speed up off-loading times at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

It would create two teams that work around the clock to off-load ambulances, with a registered nurse and a paramedic on each team.  

The pilot project, slated to start in September, is modelled after one that launched at the Dartmouth General in 2017. A Nova Scotia Health spokesperson said she believes the program is still running in the summer.

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Laura Fraser

Social Media Editor

Laura Fraser is an award-winning journalist who writes about justice, health and the human experience. Story ideas are welcome at laura.fraser@cbc.ca

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