Family told by hospital to call 911 as woman laid outside of ER with no pulse

Posted at 10:56 AM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-06 10:56:41-04

LEES SUMMIT, Mo. — It was a morning in late August when Donald Holcomb rushed his mom to Saint Luke's East emergency room in Missouri.

Jennifer Holcomb, a 40-year-old accountant, died the next day.

Donald said, "9:27 a.m. was her last breath."

For the past two months, Donald has looked back on the events of that day, wondering if things could've ended differently for his mom.

It all started when Jennifer began throwing up.

"She had stomach pain and vomiting," Donald said. "By the hour, the vomiting kept increasing."

Donald drove his mom to Saint Luke's East Hospital. When he arrived, Donald said there wasn't room for him to park under the emergency overhang by the doors.

"So, I parked in the emergency parking lot and tried to carry her," Donald said.

With his mom in his arms, Donald wasn't able to make it to the doors.

"I just had to kind of lay her down on the sidewalk," Donald said.

An off-duty nurse, who works at a different hospital, noticed Jennifer lying on the ground.

The nurse spoke to the 41 Action News I-Team but didn't want to be identified because of his connection to the hospital.

"I got out of my car to run to the patient to check her pulse and she had no pulse," the nurse said. "That means this is a life or death situation."

While the nurse is trained for emergency situations, he told the I-Team he wasn't prepared for what happened when someone ran inside the ER for help.

"They told them inside that you need to call 911," the nurse said. "I was just puzzled. 911? I'm in front of you. 911...and wait for an ambulance?"

The nurse said an employee of the hospital, who happened to be outside, assisted in performing first aid on Jennifer. She too, according to the nurse, sent someone inside for help.

"She yelled at him [bystander] and she said, 'Go in there and yell at people and get somebody in here.' Even after that, nobody showed up," the nurse said.

First aid wasn't enough to bring back Jennifer's pulse. The nurse said they needed life-saving equipment, like an AED, which was just beyond the emergency room doors. Feet from where Jennifer was lying on the sidewalk.

"When I stopped to check the pulse and I would look at the emergency entrance, I'm like, okay, everybody's gonna be showing up right now, the whole crew is going to be coming out of the emergency," the nurse said. "And, then, you look and you look and not a single soul showed up."

At that point, the nurse said someone on the scene called for an ambulance.

Dispatch records show the call came in at 9:52 a.m. According to documents, the Lees Summit Fire Department responded to the scene. They arrived seven to 10 minutes later, according to the nurse.

Donald watched in shock, he said, as medical staff tried to save his mom.

"When you get there, you expect to get help immediately," Donald said. "Not sit there and hope to God someone comes out and helps her."

Saint Luke's East Hospital would not speak with the I-Team on camera. However, Laurel Gifford, a spokesperson for the hospital did answer questions through email.

The I-Team asked if the hospital has a protocol that prevents staff from leaving the hospital to attend a patient in the parking lot. The I-Team also asked if the hospital is reviewing its policies following the incident.

Gifford sent the following statement:

"A thorough review of this incident is well underway, as is customary any time an unexpected situation occurs. These reviews are essential to identify follow up actions or process changes that may be appropriate or necessary based on a given circumstance. Our goal is always to deliver the safest, most effective care at all times.

Though we cannot comment on the specifics of this particular situation, we can acknowledge that Saint Luke’s follows standard operating procedure for events that occur outside hospital facilities. This standard—supported by CMS, and common among hospitals—provides that hospital personnel call 911 for anyone experiencing distress outside the hospital (including in hospital parking lots) and providing supportive care until EMS arrives.

Though it may seem counterintuitive to call 911 when ED personnel are nearby, the reason for this recommendation is based on sound principles of patient care:

· Pulling emergency room staff from the ED to respond to an event outside the hospital leaves current patients untended and at risk for an undetermined amount of time

· Lifesaving ED equipment cannot be safely or easily transported – it’s not made to be moved across terrain or navigated through obstacles

· Pulling ED equipment off site prevents the use of that equipment by ED providers, potentially exposing existing patients to risk

Though the circumstances of this situation are indeed tragic, and our hearts go out to the family, Saint Luke’s remains proud of the care we deliver and of our commitment to the health and safety of our patients and community."

The I-Team reached out to all the hospitals in the KC metro area.

The University of Kansas Health System is the only hospital that responded.

According to Jill Chadwick, spokesperson for the hospital, the facility's rapid response team does respond to situations outside the hospital, including the parking lot, parking garages and bus stops. In addition, when the rapid response team is called upon, EMS is activated simultaneously. However, staff usually gets to the patient before an ambulance arrives, said Chadwick.

Donald said his mom was caring, kind and always happy.

Jennifer died from alcohol poisoning, according to Donald.

He wonders if his mom could have been saved if help came sooner.

"If I had to call 911 just to get a stretcher to the car, I should've just stayed home at that point," Donald said.

This story was originally published by Jessica McMaster for KSHB