Pittsburgh, PA—50-year-old Curtis Mitchell, a retired steelworker, slowly died as he waited for nearly 30 hours for 911 paramedics to respond to his numerous calls for help. Indeed, heavy snow was falling the night of February 6, but Curtis desperately needed to go to the hospital.
Mitchell, on disability for depression, had a history of pancreatitis and had already spent nine days in the hospital in late January. It was only about a week before he began experiencing extreme abdominal pain once again. Although both Curtis and his girlfriend, Sharon Edge, called 911 several times the night of February 6, EMS never arrived and Curtis died huddled beneath some blankets on his couch.
· Pittsburgh officials have now ordered an investigation into the incident, after several key shortcomings in his case were highlighted:
· Details of Curtis’s calls weren’t passed on to other 911 operators as shifts changed. Instead, each of his calls was treated as a new incident.
· Ambulances were twice as close as a quarter-mile from Mitchell’s home, but could not cross a small bridge leading to his home because of deep snow. Mitchell was instructed both times that he would have to walk to the ambulance to obtain help. Never did the paramedics offer to walk to him.
· Once, an ambulance made it across the bridge and was at the opposite end of the block from where Curtis and his girlfriend lived. However, the paramedics did not try to walk to his aid again.
A review of the 911 calls indicated that neither Curtis nor Sharon became angry or screamed when paramedics couldn’t get to them. Instead, they remained cordial and patient, understanding that the snow was heavy and that road conditions were poor. In all, three different ambulances were dispatched—each of which instructed Curtis to walk to them. However, Curtis was in extreme abdominal pain and canceled the calls. Furthermore, because he only complained of abdominal pain, which isn’t considered life threatening, he was only given medium-priority. However, by Sunday, February 7, when Sharon made her last call, he was in desperate condition. While on the phone with the operator, Sharon was instructed to move Curtis from the couch and onto the floor to check to see if he was breathing. On the 911 tape she is heard exclaiming:
"Oh God, he can’t leave me … Curtis? Curtis? He’s dead."
Finally, the paramedics arrived shortly after, but it was too late. Mitchell said that she “kissed and hugged him”, but at that point, that was all she could do.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.