In most cases involving 911 responders and life-threatening medical conditions, patients call the emergency hotline before being transported to the nearest emergency room. But for Christy Mitchell, a Georgia resident with a rare pulmonary disease, simply going to the emergency room at Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville, Georgia was not enough — Mitchell actually had to call 911 after arriving at the hospital’s emergency room because she wasn’t getting the immediate care that she needed.
According to CBS 46 News, Mitchell suffers from a life-threatening disease that requires medicine to be “pumped into her body every two minutes” to ensure that her blood flow stays constant and transports enough oxygen to her lungs. When Mitchell’s medicine pump suddenly malfunctioned, she called a friend to drive her to the closest hospital right away.
But when she arrived at the ER, Mitchell says that she encountered some problems when she tried to explain how serious her condition is. After offering to call up the PA who works with Mitchell regularly, and who could explain her condition to the hospital staff more fully, Mitchell was told that calling the PA wouldn’t make a difference, since that medical technician worked at a different facility which had “no jurisdiction” at the Gwinnett Medical Center.
Left with no other choices — and no hope of receiving treatment before the dozens of other patients in the ER — Mitchell says that she left the hospital and proceeded to call 911 immediately.
“Making that decision to leave the ER was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Mitchell’s friend Brannon Chappell, who had driven her to the hospital.
Chappell then drove Mitchell to a nearby shopping center, according to Fox6 News, where an ambulance arrived and provided immediate treatment to restart her medication flow.
According to Fox6 News, the specialist who normally treats Mitchell stated that he wasn’t surprised by the incident — very few people suffer from the same pulmonary disease, meaning that very few emergency medical staff know how life-threatening it can be if the medication isn’t administered on time. Beyond inserting a regular IV, the specialist explained, the staff at Gwinnett Medical Center likely had no clue how or why Mitchell’s medication had to be administered.
Although Mitchell’s case is not the norm, it’s evidence of a growing problem among hospital emergency rooms: too many patients seek treatment at emergency rooms when they don’t really need it, and patients like Mitchell are left without adequate immediate treatment. Mitchell certainly couldn’t sit around in the ER waiting room for hours until the center was able to understand her condition — she couldn’t even wait the 15 minutes that patients often encounter at urgent care clinics.
The hospital has declined to provide any specific details about Mitchell’s incident, citing mandated privacy regulations, but it did release a statement saying that “[ER] patients are assessed and treated based on acuity [and] initiation of certain treatments require physician orders to ensure patient safety.”