By Bob Katzen

In 2021, former-Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law “Laura’s Law” that would require all hospitals to meet minimum criteria and standards that ensure safe, timely and accessible patient access to hospital emergency departments. The Department of Public Health has finally established a set of regulations for “Laura’s Law” that hospitals must comply with by Jan. 1, 2024.

“Laura’s Law” was named in memory of Laura Levis, a 34-year-old woman who, on September 16, 2016, went to CHA Somerville Hospital while suffering a fatal asthma attack, but was unable to get inside.” Peter DeMarco, Levis’s husband, has led the campaign for passage of the legislation. He is a journalist who wrote about Laura’s death almost five 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.

“I know Laura’s name is on these new regulations, but they are not just for the rare case of someone collapsing outside an emergency department door—far from it,” said DeMarco at a Statehouse news conference last week. “These new regulations will help all of us find and get inside emergency departments faster, and for some people the difference between getting to a doctor ten minutes faster or wasting ten minutes trying to find the emergency department due to poor signage, confusing layouts, going to the wrong door, could be life changing. It was for Laura.”

“I hope so much these new regulations serve as a stepping stone for other states to take a serious look at whether their residents could benefit by establishing rules for emergency department signage, lighting, wayfinding and security monitoring as well,” continued DeMarco. “Maybe that starts with every state in New England.”

“There is no way to change the past, but we have done our best to expect a future with optimal outcomes when any of us visits a hospital emergency department,” said Sen. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville), co-sponsor of the legislation. “I continue to thank Peter, the Department of Public Health and other advocates committed to honoring Laura’s memory by collaborating on this new set of regulations that I believe will save lives.”

“After years of advocacy, I am grateful to Peter for his extensive research and willingness to share Laura’s story, which led to the passage of our bill, Laura’s Law, in early 2021,” said co-sponsor Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville). “After more than two years of additional work, new regulations and guidance from the Department of Public Health reflect a number of new requirements to ensure all hospitals in Massachusetts will follow appropriate safety measures on lighting, security and wayfinding. Particularly in an emergency situation, patients need clear and obvious information about how to get to care quickly, no matter where people are seeking emergency care.”

The rules are aimed at eliminating as much confusion as possible for patients in crisis who rush to an emergency department, and to provide fail safes should they have difficulty getting inside. They were finalized in early April, more than six years after Laura’s passing from an asthma attack on the doorstep of a Somerville emergency department where she was unable to get inside, in part because the hospital lacked a single “Emergency” sign above any door for her to have followed. The regulations now specifically require such signs.

Other regulations include requiring any prominent door that is locked at night, as well as a hospital’s main door and Emergency Department door and ambulance-bay door, has to have an audio-video intercom connecting a lost patient to a live operator as well as a duress alarm;  requiring hospitals to set up directional signs to their emergency departments, starting the moment you reach the property, so that after you pass one sign another is already within your sight; requiring doors and patient drop-off and pick-up areas must be brightly lighted and on surveillance 24 hours a day; and requiring each emergency department to have its own GPS address for navigation purposes if its doors are not located at the hospital’s main address.

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