Family calls for change after staff at COVID-19 testing site fail to recognize heart attack symptoms

·3 min read
Anne-Marie Hutchins died of a heart attack one day after attending a COVID-19 testing site in Chilliwack, B.C., complaining of chest pains, shortness of breath and other symptoms. (Submitted by Christine Hutchins - image credit)
Anne-Marie Hutchins died of a heart attack one day after attending a COVID-19 testing site in Chilliwack, B.C., complaining of chest pains, shortness of breath and other symptoms. (Submitted by Christine Hutchins - image credit)

Changes have been made at the Fraser Health Authority after screeners at a COVID-19 testing site failed to pick up on the heart attack symptoms of a woman who thought she may have contracted coronavirus.

Anne-Marie Hutchins, 46, died in hospital of acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) on August 26, 2020, one day after going to the Chilliwack COVID-19 testing site complaining of fever, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, headache and fatigue.

Hutchins' history of tachycardia — which causes a rapid heart rate at times — was also noted by test site staff during her six-minute assessment.

However, when it came to advising if further medical attention was required, screeners checked the "no" box, recommending instead that Hutchins isolate at home.

Christine Hutchins believes the singular focus on COVID-19 may have cost her sister a critical 26 hours — the time between when she left the testing site and when she went to Chilliwack General Hospital the next day, suffering the same chest pains and shortness of breath.

She died later that evening.

"Even though [Anne-Marie] went to a COVID testing site ... in my opinion she was still in front of a medical professional and medical health-care professionals still have a responsibility," said Christine Hutchins.

"It's really devastating because I think her life could have been saved had she been referred to emergency."

Hutchins' family put their concerns in a letter that was sent to 90 B.C. health-care executives, organizations and politicians, outlining what they saw as shortcomings of COVID-19 testing procedures.

Christine Hutchins is shown with a photo display featuring her sister.
Christine Hutchins is shown with a photo display featuring her sister. (Harold Dupuis/CBC)

Their letter proposed that staff expand their scope to assess the basic vital signs of attendees, something they believe could have saved Anne-Marie's life and might save the lives of others.

In a letter, Fraser Health said nurses who conduct the COVID-19 tests are instructed to refer anyone with visible signs of distress to a higher level of care such as the emergency department, but there was "no documentation of whether or not Anne-Marie appeared in, or disclosed any acute medical distress."

It says in response to concerns raised by the family, Fraser Health has updated its COVID-19 websites with warnings that symptoms might not be related to the virus. It also added that anyone experiencing things like severe chest pains and breathing difficulties should call 911 immediately or go to a hospital's emergency department.

Additionally, Fraser Health said a pulse oximeter (to test blood oxygen levels) and blood pressure cuff are now available at its COVID-19 testing sites in the event staff decide further medical assessment of an attendee is needed.

Christine Hutchins said although the changes are a step in the right direction, she and her family feel the response has fallen short.

"The problem is we're counting on health-care professionals' judgment to use that equipment," she said.

"Even if those changes were in place ... they wouldn't have helped my sister because they're still denying that she should have been sent to emergency."

According to Hutchins, Anne-Marie was a longtime police records analyst with the Abbotsford Police Department.

She said the family wants her story known to make people aware that despite the intense public focus on COVID-19, not all illnesses are related to the virus.

"We should not begin with the assumption that we have COVID-19," she said. "We should be going to a doctor or emergency to be assessed, not to a COVID-19 testing site."

Anne-Marie Hutchins tested negative for COVID-19.