BOSTON – The Massachusetts legislature passed S.2931, An Act to ensure safe patient access to emergency care, also known as “Laura’s Law,” which would require every hospital emergency department in the state to have entrances that are properly monitored by security, clearly marked, and easily accessible, particularly to patients in acute distress.
The law was inspired by the tragic death of Laura Beth Levis, a 34-year-old woman who died of an asthma attack just steps from an emergency-room door in 2016.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed the bill late last night, and the State Senate approved the bill in October 2020. Representative Christine P. Barber (D-Somerville) and Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) were the bill’s lead sponsors.
“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. Barber. “Laura’s memory inspires us to make these common-sense changes to protect others from harm. I am grateful to my colleague Senator Jehlen and especially to Laura’s husband, Peter DeMarco, for his steadfast advocacy to improve safety for all.”
Laura’s story was featured in the Boston Globe’s “Losing Laura,” written by DeMarco, who worked with Barber’s and Jehlen’s offices to draft and pass the bill. In the story he documented numerous failings at CHA Somerville Hospital the morning Levis approached it, alone, in the midst of a severe asthma attack at 4 a.m. The hospital lacked an illuminated, emergency-room sign above any door for her to have followed, which led Levis to choose the wrong door, which was locked. Panic-stricken, her attack intensified and she collapsed before she could reach the correct door.
Under Laura’s Law, the Department of Public Health would for the first time create state standards for hospital emergency departments regarding signage, lighting, wayfinding, and the security monitoring of doors.
“In an emergency, every minute counts. The dim lights and unclear signage took minutes from Laura that cost her life,” said Sen. Jehlen. “Laura’s husband, Peter DeMarco, has worked so hard to make sure that this will never happen again. This law will save lives.”
“Saturday would have been Laura’s birthday,” DeMarco said. “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’s having a heart attack or a stroke, or an asthma attack, or someone who’s 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.”
Laura’s Law would not go into effect until after the governor’s COVID-19 state of emergency has been lifted. The bill is now before Governor Baker, who must sign the bill before it becomes law.
“I want to thank the Legislature for recognizing all the good that can come from one woman’s tragedy,” DeMarco said, “and I look forward to working in whatever way I can with Governor Baker’s office towards Laura’s Law’s final passage.” The bill was also supported by the Boston Center for Independent Living, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s New England Chapter, Cambridge Health Alliance, and the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association.
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Peter DeMarco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 617-799-0019.