A 72-year-old Parksville man died in his home while his family waited on hold for a half-hour after calling 911.
Harry Charles Blakey, retired Mountie and lawyer, died on his kitchen floor on Friday, Aug. 27, approximately 17 minutes into a 31-minute wait after 911 was called to dispatch an ambulance, said his daughter, Barbara Blakey.
Barbara said the siblings had been visiting for the wedding of her brother, Kevin Blakey, and sister-in-law, Janna Hong, when her father indicated he was not feeling well.
Janna, a registered nurse, was checking his vitals in the kitchen when he suddenly collapsed.
“The call was only answered 17 minutes after he had passed away,” wrote Barbara in an email to the PQB News. “This incident has caused extreme distress and heartbreak for my family. My sister-in-law, who is no stranger to helping patients pass on as part of her role at Foothill Hospital in Calgary, cannot sleep at night,” she wrote.
The trauma was only intensified as the family was forced to listen to a looped message on hold that implied operators were “too busy to come to the phone” as Blakey gasped and struggled for air, said Barbara.
Blakey was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer earlier this year, but had been “up and about, working in his shop and going out with friends” up until the day he died. In days prior to his death, he had even run a community baseball tournament.
The incident occurred shortly after Kevin and Janna arrived, with Blakey’s other daughter, Janice, arriving approximately an hour after his death. Barbara was travelling from Alberta at the time, and arrived at approximately 1:30 a.m.
“All my siblings were waiting to tell me the news. And I didn’t really remember much. But I screamed, I was so shocked.”
Blakey’s siblings said that they support health care workers and do not blame any single individual for the outcome.
“We appreciate health care workers. And this is not a criticism of any individual, but rather the governmental system that has allowed this to happen. I’m sure those workers are doing their very best with whatever resources they have been given,” said Barbara.
Chuck’s wife Nancy was with her husband while he quietly passed and was unaware of the activity as her focus was saying goodbye.
As a former police officer, she said she has nothing but the highest regard for all frontline workers and dispatchers who are working under incredible pressure and stress.
Following her father’s death, Barbara has since penned a formal complaint to the Patient Care Quality Office for Provincial Health Services Authority, asking for an explanation on how this could happen and for this experience to be a catalyst for change.
Barbara has also written to the MLA for Parksville-Qualicum, Adam Walker, and is prepared to escalate the incident until ‘significant and tangible’ changes are made to the system.
“I feel compelled to raise awareness of this situation to help save the life of someone else’s father, grandfather or husband,” she wrote.
Her concern also lies with senior members in the Parksville Qualicum Beach community who, she feels, may also experience similar outcomes in a medical emergency.
“If there was to be a dire emergency, the possibility is very real that someone will die waiting for dispatch to answer the call, let alone reports of slow ambulance travel times over recent months,” she wrote.
In an email to PQB News, Lesley Pritchard, media communications for B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), offered condolences to the family and loved ones of Blakey.
She wrote: “We will be conducting a review, and will be working with the Patient Care Quality Office to ensure his family’s concerns and questions are addressed. People must have confidence that when they call 911, they are connected with BCEHS and an ambulance arrives quickly.”
She continued to state their ambulance system was ‘put to the test’ this summer, and that they are taking action to improve service and response times.
“The province is adding more paramedics, dispatch staff and supports for frontline workers. A new dedicated board chair and Chief Ambulance Officer have been appointed and they are working with union partners and frontline workers to identify solutions to long-existing issues.”