By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Barbara Crowley couldn’t understand why the ambulance wasn’t speeding up the Garden State Parkway to rush her husband, Michael, to the hospital. It also didn’t have its sirens or flashing lights on, she said.
“We proceeded slowly up the parkway. Cars were passing us on the right,” she recalled in an interview.
Even more infuriating to Barbara Crowley was the ambulance driver’s decision to stop at the parkway’s Ocean View service plaza, while heading to the hospital, to wait for paramedics to arrive to give Michael an electrocardiogram. She felt it was an unnecessary delay that could have endangered her husband’s life.
Barbara Crowley described the chain of events involving the Sea Isle City emergency medical services ambulance both in an interview with SeaIsleNews.com and during public remarks at the Sept. 24 City Council meeting.
With her husband sitting at her side in the Council chambers, she appealed to the governing body to investigate the incident.
Council President J.B. Feeley, who is a neighbor of the Crowleys, assured the couple that city officials will conduct an investigation and issue a report. City officials said the report will be shared with the Crowleys, who are 30-year residents of Sea Isle.
Michael Crowley, 73, has a recent history of cardiac problems, including surgery in October 2018 at a Philadelphia hospital to save his life from a “widow maker” heart attack, said Barbara Crowley, 72.
On the morning of Aug. 16, he suffered chest pains that the couple feared were the onset of another heart attack. Fortunately, it turned out to be only a health scare, and Michael remains all right, his wife noted.
But while the incident was still unfolding on Aug. 16, Barbara Crowley called a Sea Isle EMS ambulance to the couple’s house on Park Road to have Michael rushed to Shore Medical Center in Somers Point, where his medical records are kept.
The ambulance driver, whose name was not made public during the City Council meeting, slowly drove up the Garden State Parkway and did not use his sirens or flashing lights to indicate there was an emergency, Barbara Crowley said.
Just as perplexing was the driver’s decision to pull over at the parkway’s Ocean View service plaza, just outside Sea Isle, to wait for a team of paramedics to arrive to give her husband an electrocardiogram.
“They had us wait 15 minutes to do a cardiogram when Shore Memorial was only 15 minutes away,” Barbara Crowley said, using the hospital’s former name.
In an interview after the Council meeting, Michael Crowley said he also wondered why the ambulance driver had stopped.
“I wanted to go to Shore,” he recalled thinking to himself as he lay in the back of the ambulance. “I thought we could be there (at the hospital) by the time they administered the cardiogram.”
Sea Isle Councilwoman Mary Tighe, who is a nurse, seemed astonished when Barbara Crowley described how the ambulance pulled over in the parkway rest plaza for a cardiogram.
“I’m saying, as a nurse, just get them to the hospital. Don’t stop along the side of the road,” Tighe said.
Even after the ambulance got back on the road and was approaching the hospital, there was another problem, Barbara Crowley said. Instead of taking the most direct route to the hospital, the driver went through a busy intersection in Somers Point and added precious time to the trip, she told the Council members.
“If this delay had been the last time, I would have lost my husband. He would have died,” Crowley said of her husband’s heart attack in 2018.
The Crowleys asked the ambulance driver to take them to Shore Medical Center because of the hospital’s familiarity with Michael’s heart history. He was rushed to Shore during his heart attack in 2018. From Shore, he was flown by helicopter to Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia for his life-saving heart surgery.
In August, the ambulance driver wanted to transport Michael to the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center Mainland Campus in Pomona, which was farther away than Shore Medical Center, Barbara Crowley said.
During her remarks to Council, she also asked the city to investigate how decisions are made to take patients to the hospital. She wants to find out “who’s calling the shots.”
After her husband’s health scare, Barbara Crowley received a visit from a representative of the city’s EMS department to discuss the ambulance driver. The representative told her it is department policy not to use sirens or to speed while heading to the hospital because it is considered dangerous, Crowley said.
Crowley questioned the policy, telling the Council members that it could jeopardize the lives of other patients who need to be rushed to the hospital.
“It could happen to someone else,” she said.
In 2017, Sea Isle created a city-run professional EMS department to take over ambulance and rescue services. The EMS department was formed after Sea Isle’s volunteer ambulance squad continued to struggle to attract enough members to provide emergency services on a 24-hour basis.