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Family of woman who died at Amherst ER suing Nova Scotia Health, physician

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The family of a 37-year-old woman who died after waiting hours for treatment at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre in Amherst, N.S., on Dec. 31, 2022, is suing the province's health authority in order to get answers into her death.

In a news release, law firm Valent Legal says a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the husband and children of Allison Holthoff.

According to the law firm, the lawsuit alleges that Nova Scotia Health was negligent in failing to meet the standard of care in operating the appropriate testing in a timely manner.

The lawsuit also names the attending emergency room physician as a defendant.

“The loss suffered by Allison’s family is unimaginable and seemingly would have been entirely avoidable had reasonable care been taken to what was an obviously life-threatening situation," said Mike Dull, the family's lawyer.

“We hope that this legal action does two things: first, it provides this young family with acknowledgments of the failures and their resulting harms, and second, Allison’s death is not in vain. We hope the legal action draws attention to seemingly systemic failures and encourages decision-makers to take steps to ensure that a similar tragedy does not occur again in our province.”

CTV News reached out to Nova Scotia Health for comment. In an email late Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the authority said, “Nova Scotia Health does not comment on legal actions.”

Holthoff arrived at the Cumberland Regional Health Centre before noon on New Year’s Eve. Her husband said she was in extreme pain, even screaming that she was dying at times, but she waited hours to see a doctor.

By the time she was taken into a room and had a CT scan -- which showed internal bleeding -- it was too late, according to her husband.

Roughly 12 hours after she arrived at the hospital, the mother of three was dead.

MLA CALLS FOR EXTERNAL INVESTIGATION

In a news release Wednesday, Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin says she would also like to see an external investigation into the death.

Currently, Nova Scotia Health is conducting its own internal investigation, but Smith-McCrossin says the health authority has indicated to the family that the full details will not be shared.

"It's unfortunate that Ali's family has to use the courts as an avenue to get answers and ensure accountability. I, and Ali's family, feel strongly there ought to be an independent investigation into Ali's death," said Smith-McCrossin.

On Feb. 10, Nova Scotia Health announced the renovated emergency department at the same hospital would not open on its original date of Feb. 14.

No new date has been given for the reopening of the renovated ER, which has been closed since May 2022 due to a flood.

"It's very troubling to have such an important part of our hospital operating in a temporary space for such a long period of time. Staff are frustrated, patients are frustrated," said Smith-McCrossin.

"At the end of the day, the public expects and deserves to have access to a permanent emergency department and Nova Scotia Health needs to be accountable for that."

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