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'I'm just lost': Husband of woman who died following lengthy wait at N.S. hospital speaks out


The husband of a 37-year-old woman who died in a Nova Scotia hospital after waiting hours for care is sharing his story as provincial politicians demand answers from the government.

Gunter Holthoff spoke of how he had to watch his wife Allison suffer in pain at a crowded makeshift emergency room at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre (CRHCC) on New Year’s Eve, waiting for care “to a point where they couldn't ignore us anymore.”

He said they arrived at the hospital before noon and his wife was pronounced dead before the day ended.

Holthoff said it all began the morning of New Year's Eve, when his wife woke up and said she had an upset stomach.

According to Holthoff, Allison had fallen off her horse in September 2022, and had been feeling pain ever since.

"It's been rough times for her," he said during a news conference Monday afternoon.

Allison decided to have a bath on Dec. 31 in the hopes that would ease her pain, but Holthoff says about 10 minutes later, his children were calling that "mommy needed help."

"She was lying on the floor in the hallway, she had laid down in pain," he recalled.

He decided not to call 911 due to the long wait time they had endured -- four to five hours for an ambulance -- when Allison fell off her horse just a few months earlier.

Holthoff drove Allison to the CRHCC in Amherst, N.S., about 20 minutes from their home in Tidnish, N.S., and arrived shortly after 11 a.m.


The pair finished in triage just after 11:20 a.m., according to Holthoff , before heading to the temporary waiting room in the hospital's foyer.

Staff then took some blood and urine samples, which Holthoff says was a difficult process with his wife being in so much pain.

"I did tell the triage nurse and the lady behind the desk that it was getting worse," he said. "She wasn't doing good and was in pain.”

Holthoff says other patients in the waiting room also alerted staff to his wife’s deteriorating condition.

At this point, he says his wife was lying on the floor in the fetal position. Eventually, she was asked by medical staff to be put back into the wheelchair.

It wasn't until about 3 p.m. that Holthoff’s wife was rolled out of the waiting room and into an exam room. He says more blood samples were then taken.

While waiting, Holthoff says he went to the nursing desk about five more times to tell them his wife's condition was worsening.

While trying to help Allison use a bed pan, he says a nurse asked him if she was "always like this."

It was then that Holthoff says Allison's eyes started rolling back in her head. He says the nurse then asked him if his wife was on drugs, to which he answered “no.”


Holthoff said Allison had already told him that she felt like she was dying in the waiting room, but at this point, she started saying it more and more.

"‘I feel like I'm dying. They're going to let me die here,’" Holthoff recalled her saying.

It was around 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. -- about seven hours after the couple arrived at the hospital -- that Allison began screaming in pain and asking for help.

A new nurse came to their room to check her temperature, blood pressure and oxygen once again.

Holthoff says, at that time, Allison's pulse was reading around 100, and her blood pressure was between 40 and 60.

"Everything happened quickly after that, everyone started picking up the pace," he said. "That was the first time I actually felt like someone was paying attention to us."

Finally, Allison saw a doctor, was given two litres of IV fluids and something for her pain. She then had an EKG done and was prepped and taken to the X-ray room.

During her X-ray, Holthoff left the room for a few minutes for a short break. When he returned, his wife was screaming in pain.

"‘I can't breathe. I'm in pain, don’t move me, I'm in pain,’" Holthoff said his wife was screaming.

Holthoff said Allison's eyes started rolling back in her head again, and a "Code Blue" -- which informs medical staff of a cardiac arrest -- was called over the PA system. The room she was in quickly filled with medical staff.

"So many people coming and going. It was like a f------ train station. It was busy," he said. “It was busy.”

Holthoff was told his wife was resuscitated three times. At this point, he was still hoping to take her home in a few days, weeks, or even months.

But then, Holthoff was told there wasn't much hope for his wife, and that the odds were not in her favour. The call was made not to pursue surgery.

He said a doctor did tell him that the CT scan showed internal bleeding. However, they were unable to determine exactly where the bleeding was coming from.


"They had a one-per-cent chance of keeping her alive with surgery, but at that point, there was not much chance of her ever having a normal or dignified life," said Holthoff, saying she had already undergone significant blood loss to vital organs, including her brain.

After family members, friends, and Allison's three children said their final goodbyes, Holthoff said his wife officially died around 11:30 p.m.

"Unfortunately, I do feel like she was neglected and it was to a point where they couldn't ignore us anymore. It was a terrible situation for my wife, for my kids, and a lot of people in the community.

"I'm just lost."

Gunter Holthoff, left, and Jaimie Nelson, the husband and sister of Allison Holthoff, and Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin speak at a news conference on Jan. 9, 2023.


Allison's family, along with several provincial politicians, is calling on the Nova Scotia government to take immediate action to address the province's health-care crisis.

In a letter addressed to Nova Scotia Health Minister Michelle Thompson, Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin is demanding answers as to why Allison waited hours for care at the CRHCC on Dec. 31, 2022, despite showing signs of medical distress while waiting in the emergency department.

Allison, a mother of three children, died at the hospital.

Smith-McCrossin is also calling for an “urgent investigation of this tragic situation."

Halifax MLA Brendan Maguire, NDP MLA Susan LeBlanc and MLA Iain Rankin are among the politicians joining in on Smith-McCrossin's calls for an investigation into Allison's death.

Smith-McCrossin's letter also references a request for a meeting with Thompson to discuss the hospital’s emergency department earlier in the week -- a request she claims was denied.

"I believe there are many changes that must occur to ensure the safety of residents in Cumberland County in need of emergency medical care," said Smith-McCrossin in her letter to Thompson.


In an email to CTV News Monday, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness said Nova Scotia Health is conducting an investigation to determine what exactly happened to Allison.

The department says the results of the investigation will be shared with the family when complete.

"We have initiated a quality review to the circumstances and we are committed to seeing that process through, and ensuring that we get back to the family with the recommendations from that quality review," said Thompson, during an interview with CTV News early Monday afternoon.

Thompson says the point of the quality review, which is initiated automatically, is to get a better understanding of exactly what happened to Allison that day.

"I don't have the specifics of the case and can't speak to those but a quality review allows the team to look at a patient's journey and understand where things go right, and where things go wrong, and how we can improve the system."

Thompson said the findings of the quality review will not be released to the public.


Meanwhile, Smith-McCrossin released a second letter Monday -- this time addressed to Premier Tim Houston -- asking for assistance in urgently implementing a seven-point emergency health services plan at the CRHCC.

The seven-point plan includes short-term actions that Smith-McCrossin says will help ensure safe and timely care for people living in Cumberland North.

The requested plan to address emergency health services includes:

  1.  Place a dedicated health-care professional in the temporary/makeshift waiting room in the emergency room (ER) at the CRHCC to monitor and provide ongoing medical assessment of persons waiting to see the ER physician.
  2.  Appoint personnel to urgently complete renovations of the main emergency room at the CRHCC.
  3.  The provincial government communicate with families who have had a loved one die in the ER while awaiting care, and ensure an investigation is completed. Appoint a dedicated patient advisor from the ministry of health to assist the family, to answer questions and be a resource and support.
  4.  Immediately reallocate nursing staff to ensure safe staffing levels in the ER at CRHCC. Follow with urgent recruitment of health professionals to CRHCC, offering bonuses and full-time position to attract nurses, in particular.
  5.  Establish a walk-in clinic eight hours per day, seven days week adjacent to the ER at CRHCC to meet all the non-urgent medical care needs in the community.
  6.  Publicly post the real-time wait times for both ERs and ambulances.
  7.  Require EHS to develop partnerships with local fire and other first responder agencies to support the safe transfer of patients to hospitals until such time they are able to respond, and until the issue of ambulance availability can be rectified.

Currently, the CRHCC's emergency department is undergoing renovations due to a flood in May 2022. The ER has been temporarily moved into the former ambulatory care department.

In October, Nova Scotia Health sent a news release stating the CRHCC continued to experience staffing shortages, overcrowding in inpatient units and high patient volumes.

The release advised that patient wait times in the hospital's emergency department "may be long."

The health authority also recommended that people requiring less urgent care should visit the Parrsboro Urgent Treatment Centre at South Cumberland Community Care Centre, All Saints Springhill Hospital’s Collaborative Emergency Centre, or the Urgent Treatment Centre at North Cumberland Memorial Hospital in Pugwash, N.S.


In Allison's obituary, the 37-year-old is remembered as a "true go-getter," with an incredible heart and love for her family.

Allison was the deputy chief and treasurer at the Tidnish Bridge Volunteer Fire Department.

According to her obituary, she spent time in Cadets alongside her daughter Holly, becoming a “civilian instructor."

In 2020, Allison enrolled in the Nova Scotia Community College and graduated just three weeks before her death.

Her obituary says she leaves behind her husband, Gunter Holthoff and her three children, Holly and Hayden and Heidi.

A celebration of life was held on Friday. A graveside service took place Saturday at the Riverside Cemetery in Tidnish, N.S.

GoFundMe created by Allison's cousin, Erin, a week ago had already raised more than $15,000 as of 1 p.m. Monday.

The fundraiser says the money will allow Gunter to take time off work to grieve with his three children and family. Top Stories

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