'He died for nothing': Paramedic's family take province to court after ambulance was too late to save him

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Hugo St-Onge died on Dec. 27, 2017. A coroner’s report found it took 21 minutes for paramedics to arrive, when the standard in North America to respond to cardiac arrest calls is 8 to 10 minutes.  ( Radio-Canada - image credit)
Hugo St-Onge died on Dec. 27, 2017. A coroner’s report found it took 21 minutes for paramedics to arrive, when the standard in North America to respond to cardiac arrest calls is 8 to 10 minutes. ( Radio-Canada - image credit)

The family of a paramedic who died after waiting too long for an ambulance is taking the province's Health Ministry to court, and it's hoping legal action will force them to finally address the need for better emergency services in Lévis, Que.

Hugo St-Onge died in 2017 after going into cardiac arrest. He was 24 years old. It took 20 minutes for the ambulance to show up — twice as long as the North American standard for response time.

The lack of ambulance services in the municipality located just south of Quebec City has been well documented.

A month before he died, St-Onge was among those who signed an open letter denouncing the lack of ambulance coverage in the Chaudière-Appalaches region.

"He died for nothing," said the 24-year-old's parents, Johanne Lapointe and Bruno St-Onge, in an interview with Radio-Canada.

They say more than three years after his death, they still have difficulty sleeping, waking up in the middle of night thinking about their son.

Ambulance resources in the area so thin that after paramedics showed up to a home last May, they were dispatched to another call deemed more urgent and left before checking on the woman who needed assistance. She died later that night, also of cardiac arrest.

Johanne Lapointe and Bruno St-Onge say they still have difficulty sleeping, more than three years after their son's death.
Johanne Lapointe and Bruno St-Onge say they still have difficulty sleeping, more than three years after their son's death. (Radio-Canada)

In regards to St-Onge's death, the coroner's report last July found that there were three ambulances in the area when the 24-year-old was in distress. They were all busy. The closest available team was 13 kilometres away in a nearby town.

Since that report, the province's Health Ministry has managed to add a total of 16 extra service hours in Lévis. Ambulance workers in the area say they 160 extra service hours — ten times more what the ministry has added.

St-Onge's family is suing the Health Ministry, the regional health board for Chaudière-Appalaches and the 911 call centre for $520,000.

Both the ministry and the health board have declined to comment.

St-Onge's parents feel they must continue advocating for better ambulance services in Lévis, given that their son spoke out about that same issue prior to his death.

"For Hugo, for the family, we feel like we have to push forward," Lapointe said. "When Hugo died, everyone in the family was shattered. Today, we pick up the pieces, we put the pieces together as best we can."

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