By Bob Katzen
The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would require all hospitals to meet minimum criteria and standards that ensure safe, timely and accessible patient access to hospital emergency departments and rooms.
The regulations which would be crafted by the Department of Public Health would include legible indoor and outdoor signage and lighting including wayfinding signage that is designed to help a person find their way to the emergency room without lengthy explanations or complicated maps; monitoring of all emergency department access points; requiring proper security monitoring of any prominent hospital door or entrance that is locked at night and through which a patient might try to enter; and any other safety feature that the department deems necessary to ensure daytime or nighttime entry to an emergency room or department.
The measure is called “Laura’s Law,” in memory of Laura Levis, a 34-year-old woman, who on September 16, 2016 went to CHA Somerville Hospital while suffering an asthma attack. Peter DeMarco, Levis’ husband has led the campaign for passage of the legislation. He is a journalist who wrote about Laura’s death almost two years ago for the “Boston Globe” in a story called “Losing Laura.” According to DeMarco’s story, “Laura chose a locked door to try to access the emergency room because the correct door was not properly marked. Though Laura was on surveillance video, the hospital security desk was left unattended all night, so no one saw her. When a nurse from the emergency department eventually looked out the door for Laura, she did not see her, as the spot where Laura collapsed was in near darkness.”
Laura had called 911 but by the time first responders found her, she had collapsed in cardiac arrest and died a few days later on September 22.
“Saturday would have been Laura’s birthday,” DeMarco said following approval of the bill. “She was so smart, funny, strong, beautiful. She’d just gotten a promotion at Harvard University. She was entering the best years of her young life. I have struggled every day with her death, but now that Laura’s Law has been passed, her loss will also have incredible meaning. A brighter sign, a guard at the security desk, a clearly marked door—any one of these things could make a huge difference to someone who is having a heart attack or a stroke, or an asthma attack, or someone who has overdosed on drugs and rushes to a hospital. I hope I never have to hear of someone ever again dying steps from an emergency-room door. And that will all be because of Laura.”
“I want to thank the Legislature for recognizing all the good that can come from one woman’s tragedy,” DeMarco concluded. “I look forward to working in whatever way I can with Gov. Baker’s office towards Laura’s Law’s final passage.”
“In an emergency, every minute counts,” said Sen. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville), the Senate sponsor of the bill. “The dim lights and unclear signage took minutes from Laura that cost her life. Laura’s husband, Peter DeMarco, has worked so hard to make sure that this will never happen again. This law will save lives.”
“This bill is critical to protect patient safety, especially in emergencies, and I am proud that the House prioritized passing this bill before the end of our legislative session,” said Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville), the House sponsor of the measure. “Laura’s memory inspires us to make these common-sense changes to protect others from harm.”