Family of N.S. woman who died in hospital after seven-hour wait sues health authority

HALIFAX — The family of a 37-year-old Nova Scotia woman who died in hospital on New Year's Eve after a seven-hour wait to see a doctor is suing the province's health authority, alleging that negligence is to blame.

Allison Holthoff died at the Cumberland Regional Health Centre in Amherst, N.S., due to complications associated with an untreated splenic aneurysm, according to a statement of claim filed Tuesday on behalf of Holthoff’s three children and her husband.

The family alleges that medical staff failed to assess Holthoff’s condition or take her vitals on multiple occasions over the course of her hospital visit as her condition rapidly deteriorated.

“The loss suffered by Allison’s family is unimaginable and seemingly would have been entirely avoidable had reasonable care been taken to what was an obviously life-threatening situation,” said Mike Dull, a lawyer representing the family.

Dull said in a statement Tuesday that the family is hopeful this legal action will provide them with acknowledgment of the health-care failures that led to Holthoff’s death and "encourage decision makers to take steps to ensure that a similar tragedy does not occur again in our province."

Holthoff's husband, Gunter Holthoff, brought his wife's story to his local member of the legislature on Jan. 3, providing the troubling details of her final hours in hospital.

He has said he took his wife to the hospital when she collapsed in extreme pain after complaining of an upset stomach at their home near Amherst around 11 a.m. on Dec. 31.

After being triaged by hospital staff, she waited more than six hours in the emergency room before she was taken to a room inside the unit, he said. It was another hour before she saw a doctor and received pain treatment.

The lawsuit filed Monday is against the health authority and the ER physician on shift at the time of Holthoff’s death.

The statement of claim contains allegations that have not been proven in court. A health authority spokesperson said that the organization does not comment on legal action.

A day before Holthoff’s death, 67-year-old Charlene Snow died at home after she gave up on seeing a doctor at a Cape Breton emergency room after waiting about seven hours. Following the two deaths, Nova Scotia announced a plan aimed at providing faster urgent care for patients.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2023.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version erroneously said Holthoff's husband had died.