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The Nannini Family

Bella Nannini Smiling in ColorIt was late afternoon on a February day in 2008 when paramedics were dispatched to the home of Mike and Brandy Nannini. Their 2-year-old daughter, Bella, was having a seizure and by the time paramedics arrived, she was nearly 15 minutes into it. She was also completely blue, jerking uncontrollably, and totally limp.

Susceptible to seizures due to a genetic disorder, Bella’s neurologist told Brandy to have the ambulance take her to an emergency room in Washington, D.C., where he would be waiting for her. It should have only taken the ambulance 15 minutes to get there. Instead, it was nearly six hours before Bella got there.

That night, the hospital was on “ambulance diversion.” That’s when an emergency department is so overcrowded it literally cannot handle one more patient and ambulances are diverted to other hospitals.

“The paramedics told me that they were forbidden to go to that hospital,” Brandy explains. “At the time, I had no idea what ‘diversion’ meant. It never occurred to me that we could be turned away from a hospital. It was frightening, frustrating and an extremely helpless feeling.” And, according to The Washington Post, a very common occurance for ERs in the District of Columbia and surrounding areas.  

Bella was taken to a community hospital where Mike says they did an excellent job of stabilizing her. But because their pediatric unit could not handle Bella’s special medical needs, they almost immediately started trying to get her transferred to the other hospital.

It took hours upon hours to get Bella transferred. Meanwhile, the little girl that Brandy says “catches anything that breezes past her” had to wait in an ER crammed full of people coughing, sneezing, and bleeding.

Nannini Family IIWhen the Nannini’s finally did arrive at the other emergency department, Brandy says she was completely unprepared for what she saw. “It was five times worse than what it was at the first hospital. There were people everywhere,” she recalls. “That’s when I understood why they had to go on diversion.”  

“It was very frustrating and we felt powerless,” Mike says of their diversion experience. But he also says it made him more aware of the problems emergency rooms face.

“I didn’t appreciate the challenges emergency rooms have in terms of having to make decisions of potentially shutting down or turning away patients,” Mike explains. “I imagine they don’t like doing it; that it is very much against their nature of providing assistance whenever they can. It’s probably a very hard decision.”

But while the Nannini's now have a greater understanding, they also have a lot of unease.

“The next time Bella has a seizure,we don’t know where she will end up,” Brandy says. “If we can’t get in at one of the three major hospitals that can handle her medical needs, then it just becomes this journey of ERs.

“I feel like the system is broken,” Brandy says of emergency care in this country. “It is really discouraging.”

The Access to Emergency Medical Services Act seeks to end the ever-increasing problem of ambulance diversion so that patients like Bella can get the medicinal care when and where they need it.  And you can help by asking your Congressional representative to co-sponsor the Access to Emergency Medical Services Act. 

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