No ambulances were available when 911 call for fatal dog attack came in: HQCA report

A cascading series of factors — including improper coding, the inability to get through to 911 and a lack of available ambulances —  delayed medical help more than 30 minutes for a Calgary senior who had been attacked by dogs. 

The Health Quality Council of Alberta released a report Thursday detailing the emergency response to the fatal canine attack. Betty Ann (Rusty) Williams, 86, was mauled by three dogs while she was gardening in June in the city’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood.

A older woman with short hair smiles. She is wearing a white fleece sweater with a long collar.
It took 36 minutes for an ambulance to get to 86-year-old Betty Ann Williams, who had been attacked by three dogs in the city’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood. She died from her injuries. (McInnis and Holloway Funeral Homes)

Her neighbours described to CBC News how they held the woman up for about half an hour, alongside a bylaw officer, while waiting for an ambulance. 

The incident prompted scrutiny of AHS wait times. 

The report from HQCA — a provincial agency that operates independently from Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health — said EMS arrived 36 minutes and nine seconds after the 911 call. 

The report said there was a series of “issues” that took place that day. The event was initially coded as non-life-threatening.

The 911 call taker — with the information that there had been a dog attack — assumed the scene was not safe and assigned police instead of EMS as the lead agency. 

Had the response been upgraded to life-threatening, the report estimated that paramedics would have been on scene just after 14 minutes. That still would have exceeded AHS’s targeted response time for life-threatening incidents. 

The report also noted that the Southern Alberta Communications Centre was short-staffed that day, and demand for EMS exceeded the available resources. Only 31 of 38 (or 82 per cent) of ambulances assigned to Calgary were staffed, and EMS was in a red alert — meaning there were no ambulances available to respond to events. 

Betty Ann Williams, 86, died on June 5, 2022, after she was attacked by three dogs while gardening in her back alley in the northwest community of Capitol Hill. (Helen Pike/CBC)

A bylaw officer was on scene within minutes. He tried to make multiple calls to EMS but was unable to get through. 

The HQCA said there are seven recommendations specific to EMS that AHS will immediately act on. 

The three dogs were a North American pit bull terrier mix, a North American Staffordshire mix and an American pit bull. They were owned by a neighbour

The report was originally slated for September but was delayed until January due to its complex nature. 

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