A cascading series of factors — a communication breakdown between 911 and EMS, the inability to get through to emergency services 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 an independent 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 the city’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood last June.

Her neighbours news how they held the woman for about half an hour, alongside a bylaw officer, while waiting for an ambulance

The incident prompted scrutiny of AHS wait times. 

Charlene McBrien-Morrison, CEO of the Health Quality Council of Alberta, said there was no single action or activity that led to the ambulance’s delay. 

“It was a confluence of many things that came together on that day … some more significantly than others.” 

She said communication protocols were in place, but they weren’t used correctly — “the tools that were there were either misunderstood or misused.” 

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 event was initially coded as non-life-threatening.

The Calgary 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. 

EMS dispatch did not speak directly to the 911 caller. 

The report also found that the 911 call taker communicated information to EMS in a way that didn’t follow an established process. EMS, in turn, used a manual card for dog attacks instead of a computerized version. If they had been using the computer program, it would have prompted questions about the senior’s condition. Legal aid more

Had the response been upgraded to life-threatening, the report estimated that paramedics would have been on scene just after 14 minutes. 

However, that still would have exceeded AHS’s targeted response time for life-threatening incidents. 

The report 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. 

Mauro Chies, interim president of AHS, said the event has had a far-reaching impact on those involved. 

“We deeply apologize for the role the AHS had in getting the ambulance to the scene that day,” he said. 

A bylaw officer was on scene within minutes. He tried to make multiple calls to EMS but was unable to get through. Once EMS arrived, they went to the wrong location — to the front of Williams’s home, not the alley.