FOX 8 Defenders: Family waits hours for paramedics to arrive

Updated: Jul. 23, 2019 at 10:45 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - When you have an emergency, most of the time, you call 911 and help arrives, but one family waited hours, and help never did show up.

Very slowly, Elizard Clark uses a walker to get up and around his home while recovering from a hip replacement surgery in May.

Clark’s niece, Janette Clark helps take care of him. She said her uncle had the surgery on May 6, and within a few days things started to take a turn for the worst. In the first 24 hours Elizard was home, Janette said his right leg started to swell.

“I felt like I wanted to bust open because my leg swelled up that big. Thought it was gonna bust open. [It was] real tight,” Elizard Clark said.

Janette Clark said she had to physically cut his pants off.

Worried it was something serious, she wanted to drive her uncle to the hospital, but he was too afraid to bend his leg to get in her car.

“It was very swollen. His skin was very warm to the touch, and that was one of the things that the nurses and his doctor said if it gets warm, bring him back to the hospital because that could be a sign of infection,” she said.

That’s when they called 911 for help.

Janette said she made the first call at 4:26 p.m.

The operator asked several questions, including whether her uncle was breathing normally and if he was in pain, and gave Janette instructions to follow until paramedics get there.

At 4:35, Janette made a second call and was told the operator had record of the first one and a unit would be out as soon as possible.

Then at 4:56 p.m., Elizard Clark himself called 911 for a third time.

“I can’t make it to the hospital because I’m hurt too bad. If I could, I’d get in a car and drive,” Elizard said to the operator.

The operator replied: “I do apologize sir. I’m still showing here that the call is pending. As soon as a unit is available we’ll get someone out there. I do apologize."

At 6:13 p.m., nearly two hours after the initial call, the Clarks made a fourth one.

“I did see you called a while ago," a 911 operator said. “Man, I’m sorry I’m just looking trying to see what’s going on.”

Janette told the operator she would have just walked her uncle to the hospital or driven him herself, but he could not move his leg.

With University Medical Center in view from the front door of their North Galvez Street home, Janette said the whole ordeal was especially frustrating.

“It’s like so close yet so far all at the same time,” she said.

Despite the pain in her uncle’s leg, they decided to walk to UMC.

Just getting out of the house and down three steps was a painful and slow process that they explained took about 45 minutes.

With her 5-year-old daughter by her side, Janette Clark said she carefully walked her uncle over a not so smooth sidewalk one block to a busy Canal Street. Then, they crossed six lanes of traffic on Canal and a streetcar line to get to the other side. Still, they had another block to the ER entrance.

“For me it seemed like it took forever,” Janette said.

And to top it off, it was raining that day.

She said UMC doctors got the swelling to go down and thankfully it wasn’t life threatening.

“But it could have turned out to be a completely different story,” she said.

At 10:31 that night -- six hours after her initial call for help at 4:26 p.m. -- Janette Clark said a 911 operator called back.

“Yes ma’am, this is 911. We’re getting ready to send someone over there to you guys, okay?” the operator said.

By then, doctors were already treating Elizard Clark.

Dr. Emily Nichols is the EMS director for the City of New Orleans and said she understands the Clarks’ frustration, but the operators were following protocol.

“The call takers know that the most critical life-threatening calls are the ones that get responded to first. And unfortunately, there were other persons that had more dire circumstances at that time,” Nichols said.

According to Nichols, the day Elizard Clark needed help, the 911 center experienced a very high call volume of calls, averaging roughly ten calls every hour. At that point, she said operators triage patients, in order to answer the most serious calls.

“The things that we are looking at are if the person is awake, alert, if they’re conscious, if they’re having any trouble with their breathing, if they’re having any pain that might suggest there’s a heart attack or stroke or something that’s approaching a cardiac arrest where their heart were to stop beating,” Nichols said.

A gunshot wound would be another example of a high priority, and based on Elizard Clark’s symptoms, he was categorized as a low priority -- code one.

“I’m really sorry that this happened, and we’ll always try and get to you as best as we can and as quickly as we can when we have those resources available,” Nichols explained.

For the Clark family, it was a traumatic ordeal they hope to never have to go through again.

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