The Nova Scotia Health Authority has filed a defence with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia against a claim by the family of Allison Holthoff, who died in an emergency department in Amherst after waiting seven hours before seeing a doctor.

As Jennifer Henderson reported on Feb. 22, Holthoff’s family sued Nova Scotia Health and Dr. John Atia, the physician on duty in the emergency department, as being “jointly negligent” in failing to provide proper care to Holthoff. (The official name of the agency is “Nova Scotia Health Authority,” but it brands itself as “Nova Scotia Health.” It operates the province’s hospitals, with the exception of the IWK.)

Holthoff, a 37-year-old mother of three children, died on New Year’s Eve at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre. The family claims she died from “complications associated with an untreated splenic aneurysm,” which could have been detected had she received a CT scan.

Henderson reported on the family’s description of Holthoff’s trip to the emergency room as follows:

“Holthoff was suffering from severe pain in the upper left side of her abdomen, difficulty breathing, and nausea. She could not support her own weight.”

The statement of claim says she was triaged by a nurse and a blood sample was taken. When a urine sample was requested, Gunter accompanied his wife to the bathroom to help collect it. Inside the bathroom she collapsed and two security guards arrived to help Gunter lift her back into the wheelchair.

“The Deceased’s condition quickly deteriorated within the first hour of waiting in the hospital’s waiting room,” the court filing reads.

“She was in extreme pain and nauseous. She was vomiting bile. She was unable to sit straight in her wheelchair and remained slumped in the fetal position to one side. She was no longer effectively able to verbalize sentences. The Deceased’s husband, along with witnesses in the waiting room, continued to report the Deceased’s urgent condition to the Defendant’s nursing staff.”

According to the statement, Holthoff was in too much pain to stay seated and spent some time on the floor curled in a fetal position before she was placed in a private cubicle at approximately 3pm.  No monitoring equipment was present and it wasn’t until three hours later, at about 6pm, that a nurse re-assessed Holthoff’s vital signs.  

According to the court document, the patient was found to be “extremely hypotensive and tachycardic,” which means she had very low blood pressure and a rapid heart rate.

At that point, Allison was taken into an observation room where she was examined by Dr. Atia, who ordered an IV and pain relief. The statement of claim said further tests were ordered but before they could occur, “the patient went into cardiac arrest.” She died at about 7pm, eight hours after arriving at the emergency department.

In the defence filed by lawyer Karen N. Bennett-Clayton of Stewart McKelvey, Nova Scotia Health maintains that “any injury, loss or damage sustained by the Plaintiff [Holthoff’s family] was not caused by the negligence on the part of the Defendant Health Authority or anyone for whom Defendant Health Authority would be responsible at law.”

Further, Nova Scotia Health’s defence says that “any care provided by them to Allison Holthoff was provided reasonably, appropriately and in a manner consistent with the applicable standard care in the circumstances.”

Nova Scotia Health asks that the court dismiss the Holthoff family’s claim and assign court costs to the family.

Neither the Holthoff’s family claim nor Nova Scotia Health’s defence has been tested in court, and a hearing date has yet to be set.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Nice touch “Nova Scotia Health asks that the court dismiss the Holthoff family’s claim and assign court costs to the family.” as if they haven’t paid enough