Nova Scotia

Eastern Passage woman says don't be 'complacent' about overwhelmed emergency rooms in N.S.

A woman from Eastern Passage, N.S., is urging people to speak up about emergency rooms in the province that are too busy to adequately treat patients.

Mallory Shemshadi says her brother couldn't get timely treatment — and it almost cost him his life

Mallory Shemshadi says she's speaking out — not to criticize medical staff — but to make people aware that hospital emergency rooms are at a breaking point. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

A woman from Eastern Passage, N.S., is urging people to speak up about lengthy delays in receiving care at the province's emergency rooms.

Mallory Shemshadi said her brother's experience at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre's emergency room in Halifax almost cost him his life.

Her 39-year-old brother, who she doesn't want to name due to privacy concerns, went to the ER on Sunday Nov. 27. She says he could barely breathe yet was reluctant to go to the ER until his mother talked him into it.

"This is a really difficult time," Shemshadi says. "My brother's under 40 years old and what started as influenza has now brought him to a life-critical situation."

She says her brother arrived in the emergency room at 5:30 p.m., was triaged and told to wait. Medical staff there told him there were 42 patients ahead of him — full capacity — and he wouldn't see a doctor for at least 12 hours.

Five hours after he arrived his condition deteriorated. It was getting harder for him to breathe. Nurses gave him a puffer at 10:30 p.m. After that he and his mother went home, thinking he may be better off resting there and trying to go to a walk-in clinic in the morning.

But he was far worse by Monday morning. His oxygen levels dropped, Shemshadi says, and he was unresponsive. They called an ambulance and when he got back to the same ER, Shemshadi says doctors were clearly upset that her brother didn't get care sooner.

"They were frustrated that he wasn't seen," she says. "We could feel their frustration and we know that they're doing their best and they're working tirelessly and they're doing a really great job up there, but they are tired and they are stressed."

Shemshadi said when her brother arrived at Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre on Nov. 25, the waiting room was full. He was told it would be at least a 12-hour wait to see a doctor. (File photo/Thawornnurak/Shutterstock)

Eventually — once he was seen by a medical team — his condition improved.

"He's stable at the moment," Shemshadi says, "but he's still on ventilators and still receiving oxygen support. From the scans, his lungs look like a lung of a 70-year-old man. That's how bad the infection [was]. 

"It's a bacterial pneumonia, but with a raging infection, which is why his lungs weren't even able to circulate the oxygen throughout his body. They couldn't stabilize his oxygen levels. It took them, I would say a good 12 hours just to get his oxygen levels stabled."

Shemshadi says the medical staff at the QEII emergency department assured them there would be an internal investigation to determine whether he was triaged improperly — or why he wasn't seen sooner.

"I mean, I appreciate that they're investigating it," she says. "I'm hoping that it will bring some light as to what's going on. Is it going to change something? I would hope ... Again they can do the investigation, but what's going to be done after that? That concerns me."

Shemshadi said medical staff at the QEII emergency department assured her there would be an internal investigation to determine whether her brother was triaged improperly. (Robert Short/CBC)

In an emailed statement, staff at Nova Scotia Health say it concerns them when patients face long waits for care in ERs. Any time there is an "unexpected outcome," they say those cases are reviewed "to learn from them and improve."

"We cannot speak to the individual patient's case. However, we can confirm that high numbers of admitted patients in the department were resulting in longer than usual waits at the time. While we keep those who are waiting informed about anticipated wait times as best we can, we do not encourage people to leave."

Shemshadi says she's speaking out — not to criticize any of the medical staff — but simply to make some noise about a situation she worries is getting worse.

"I want to thank the doctors for everything," she says. "But more people need to start speaking out about what they're experiencing in order for action to be taking place. Write to your MLAs! Get out there! Talk about it! We can be understanding of a situation, but that doesn't mean that we have to be complacent."


Preston Mulligan has been a reporter in the Maritimes for more than 20 years. Along with his reporting gig, he also hosts CBC Radio's Sunday phone-in show, Maritime Connection.

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