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Woman, 87, dies after ambulances diverted

Feb. 13, 2013 at 8:34 PM

TORONTO, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- An elderly Toronto woman died after seven ambulances dispatched to her home were diverted to other calls deemed higher priorities, records show.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Wednesday its investigation revealed the 87-year-old woman, who was suffering from abdominal pain Dec. 30, died when it took more than 3 hours for an ambulance to reach her retirement residence because of Toronto Emergency Medical Services' "limited resources."

Her 3:14 p.m. 911 call was given a low priority that, under Toronto EMS guidelines, meant an ambulance should have arrived within 21 minutes. Instead, it wasn't until she had stopped breathing and EMS was told she was "VSA," or vital signs absent, that she was given top priority and an ambulance finally arrived at 6:29 p.m. By then, the CBC said, she was dead.

A dispatcher noted the "late response due to limited resources," the CBC said.

"Once we received notification about the change in the patient's condition, we responded with our highest level of response, and paramedics were there within 5 minutes of the change in call status," Toronto EMS said in a Jan. 30 email to CBC News.

The network said the Ontario Ministry of Health and Toronto EMS are investigating the incident.

"When we're talking about people in retirement homes or nursing homes, by definition people are there because there are certain things they can't do for themselves," Susan Eng from CARP, a not-for-profit seniors advocacy group, told the CBC.

"It's our obligation to make sure that they are safe. And in this case, obviously the system failed them."

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