Union criticizes province for delaying ambulance in fatal attack by dog

The seriously injured woman waited, surrounded by neighbors, for about half an hour before an ambulance arrived

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The elderly woman who was fatally attacked by three dogs on Sunday afternoon is remembered as an avid gardener whose personality was “bigger than life”.

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“Rusty will be missed by many. We want to thank the City of Calgary for its overwhelming condolences,” Heather Johnson said in a GoFundMe campaign organized to help the family with funeral expenses.

Police say the 86-year-old woman — identified in the fundraiser by her first name, Betty Ann, and her more common nickname, Rusty — was fatally assaulted around 2 p.m. while working on her yard at her Capitol Hill home after her neighbor’s dogs escaped from their backyard. The three dogs have since been seized by the city and are believed being a North American Pit Bull Terrier mix, a North American Staffordshire Mix and an American Pit Bull.

Betty Ann was a veteran and cancer survivor, recently in remission, and her family remembers her as a “small but strong lady.”

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“She was ready to live her golden years cancer-free,” Johnson said.

The fundraiser says she has lived in Capitol Hill for 50 years, always taking great pride in her home and “especially her yard.” More recently, Rusty lived in the house with her niece, whom Johnson said she had a great bond with.

After the attack, Betty Ann leaned against a garage door in her alley for about half an hour before an ambulance arrived. Her home on 21st Avenue NW is less than a 10-minute drive from Foothills Medical Center, where she eventually died. Neighbors said they saw a few ambulances passing by for other calls as they waited next to Betty Ann.

“The disbelief and shock (are) breathtaking. It took a shocking 35 minutes for the ambulance to arrive, by the time they did it was (too) late for Rusty,” Johnson said.

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Back alley in the 2100 block of 15th Street NW where the attack took place last Sunday.
Back alley in the 2100 block of 15th Street NW where the attack took place last Sunday. Photo by Darren Makowichukpost media

Alberta Health Services launched an investigation into the long response time on Monday. On Tuesday, AHS told Postmedia that their assessment found that the 911 call was initially rated non-life-threatening, causing the 30-minute delay between the call and the paramedic’s response.

AHS said dispatchers had categorized the incident for police response based on the information provided by the caller. From the details the police had provided to EMS, they believed it was not life-threatening and did not immediately dispatch an ambulance to the scene along with the police.

“When CPS arrived at the scene, they informed EMS that the patient’s injuries were serious,” AHS said in a written statement.

“EMS immediately sent an ambulance, which arrived nine minutes later. This tragic incident occurred at a time of very high EMS call volumes. However, when the call was deemed a high priority, an ambulance was immediately dispatched.

“AHS is further discussing these findings within EMS and will be contacting CPS to identify any further lessons learned from this tragic incident.”

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Based on AHS’s findings, the office of Health Secretary Jason Copping said the minister was “relieved to hear” that the initial assessment by AHS confirms that there was no undue delay in the response from the EMS.”

“It doesn’t change the fact that this death was a terrible tragedy, or the need to address the pressure on EMS,” said Steve Buick, Copping’s press secretary.

“We need to continue to support EMS and add whatever resources are needed until we get response times back within AHS’s targets, where they were until last summer when volumes soared to 30 percent.”

Earlier Tuesday, the union representing Alberta’s paramedics criticized the systemic issues that have led to the wait.

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta said the incident is an example of bigger problems with the way ambulance services have been handled in the province. HSAA President Mike Parker said ambulance waiting up to an hour is a daily occurrence in Alberta.

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“We’re going through this level of no units available on a daily basis . . . the example from Sunday’s event clearly shows what that means for the lives and limbs of people in urgent need of EMS,” Parker said, adding that people often waiting 45 minutes or an hour for paramedics.

“This is every day and our members are so devastated that they are leaving the industry.”

While the county recently announced plans to bolster EMS services across the county — a move that will put four additional ambulances on Calgary’s roads by the end of June and another five by the end of September — Parker said more is needed to deliver immediate results. ease the burden on paramedics. He said there would be a significant cost to significantly improve EMS services across the province, “probably a huge amount of money.”

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“Cause and effect; you’re letting this system go completely haywire where the public doesn’t trust they’ll even get an ambulance anymore, and unfortunately they’re damn right,” he said.

“It’s not on the backs of the paramedics doing everything they can. It’s on a system that was allowed to fail, even though we’ve been talking about it now, I don’t know, 10 years.”

NDP health critic David Shepherd said he was shocked and alarmed to learn of the incident and the ambulance delay. He said the province’s ambulance and hospital systems have been pushed to “breaking point”.

“This situation has become dangerously common and response times in Calgary in 2022 will be the slowest on record,” he said, calling on Health Secretary Jason Copping to accept responsibility for his “catastrophic mismanagement of the health care system.”

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Alison Jardine will lay flowers on site on Tuesday.
Alison Jardine will lay flowers on site on Tuesday. Photo by Jim Wellspost media

‘Lots of love’

On Monday evening, a small monument began to form in front of the garage where Betty Ann was attacked. Bouquets of flowers sit next to a small statue of an angel. A note accompanying the effigy reads: “We will miss you Rusty, much love.”

Alison Jardine, who lives in nearby Mount Pleasant, was moved to bring flowers to the site of the deadly attack.

“I’m an avid gardener myself and it just hit me really hard,” says Jardine, who has lived in the area for some 25 years.

“The fact that the ambulance took so long to get there makes you feel unsafe in your own neighbourhood.”

The Calgary Police Department’s criminal investigation into the incident continues. Depending on what comes out of that investigation, police say the dog’s owner could face charges, including negligence leading to death or a violation of the law. The dogs are still being held while the investigation continues; they could be euthanized.

The municipality said officials who were on the scene were given some time off.

There have been at least two fatal dog attacks in the Calgary area since 2000, involving both the dog’s owners and their family members. A newborn baby boy was killed by the family husky in Airdrie in 2012, and a 50-year-old woman from the Langdon area was killed in 2018 when she tried to protect a toddler from the family dog.

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Twitter: @michaelrdrguez

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