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N.S. doctor denies alleged negligence in case of woman who died after long ER wait

Allison and Günter Holthoff pose for a photo on a beach. (Source: Ali Holthoff/Facebook) Allison and Günter Holthoff pose for a photo on a beach. (Source: Ali Holthoff/Facebook)

A doctor named in a lawsuit after a Nova Scotia woman died in hospital following a long wait to see a physician has denied allegations from the family that he failed in his duties.

Allison Holthoff died at the Cumberland Regional Health Centre in Amherst, N.S., due to complications associated with an untreated splenic aneurysm, according to a statement of claim filed Feb. 22 on behalf of Holthoff's three children and her husband.

The family has alleged in their lawsuit that medical staff failed to assess Holthoff's condition or take her vitals on multiple occasions over the course of her hospital visit on Dec. 31, 2022, as her condition rapidly deteriorated.

In his notice of defence filed Thursday, Dr. John Atia said he wasn't negligent in his treatment of Holthoff, denied he "failed to respond to pleas of nursing staff," and said he worked "in a consummately professional manner."

The lawsuit was launched by the family in Nova Scotia Supreme Court against Nova Scotia Health and Atia, the attending ER physician when Holthoff arrived.

The doctor's statement said when Holthoff first was triaged by ER staff at 11:14 a.m., she had abdominal pain that was being felt in her chest as she breathed, but "her vital signs were all within normal ranges."

Atia says at 11:45 a.m., as he was attending other patients, he ordered blood work, an electrocardiogram and urine analysis for Holthoff and "it turned out the test results were normal."

The woman's husband, Gunter Holthoff, has said he took his wife to the hospital when she collapsed in extreme pain after complaining of an upset stomach at their home near Amherst.

Holthoff has said that after being triaged by hospital staff, his wife waited more than six hours in the emergency room before she was taken to a room inside the unit, and it was another hour before she saw a doctor and received pain treatment.

Atia says in his statement of defence that as Holthoff was waiting, he was occupied with four critical psychiatric emergency cases and four critical cases of pediatric illness, and he was working on his own.

It says in one of the cases of pediatric stroke, Atia had to expend "considerable effort" to arrange Life Flight service to IWK Health Centre.

The statement of defence says that between 11:45 a.m. and 6 p.m. Atia wasn't told of Holthoff's deteriorating condition, and he only learned at about 6 p.m. that her blood pressure had "dropped precipitously."

The defence says he immediately went to assess her and ordered treatments to diagnose her and arrange imaging of the chest, abdomen and pelvis, and to arrange for a radiologist in Halifax to do the analysis.

According to the document, while the CT scan was being arranged, Atia had brought Holthoff to an area where X-rays were to be taken. It says as Atia was briefing another ER doctor who was coming on shift, Holthoff had a heart attack.

Atia then stayed after hours and "worked diligently" to help arrange for Holthoff's intensive care, says the defence.

The defendant asks the court to dismiss the case against him and that he be allowed to seek legal costs from the plaintiff.

A day before Holthoff's death, 67-year-old Charlene Snow died at home after she gave up on seeing a doctor at a Cape Breton emergency room after waiting about seven hours. After the two deaths, Nova Scotia announced a plan aimed at providing faster urgent care for patients.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2023. Top Stories

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