Senate Passes Legislation Ensuring Safe Patient Access to Emergency Care

(BOSTON – 10/23/2020) On October 22, the Massachusetts State Senate passed An Act to ensure safe patient access to emergency care, also known as “Laura’s Law,” in memory of Somerville resident Laura Beth Levis, who died in 2016 from an asthma attack just steps from an emergency-room door.

Levis, 34, was a vibrant, Harvard University editor who walked to the emergency room of Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) Somerville Hospital before dawn one September morning, but was unable to get inside. Her attack intensified, and she collapsed before help could arrive. Numerous safety failures at the hospital, including inadequate ER signage, lighting, and an abandoned hospital security desk, all played a role in her tragic death.

“No one should ever lose their life outside an emergency room due to poor signage and dim lighting,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), co-chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “What happened to Laura Levis was tragic, heart-breaking and, frankly, could have been prevented. With the passage of “Laura’s Law” in the Senate, we hope to protect patients and ensure that a similar tragedy never happens again.” 

Laura’s story was chronicled in the Boston Globe story “Losing Laura,” written by her husband, Peter DeMarco, who has worked with Senator Jehlen and Representative Barber on passing the bill.

“We assume that hospitals have proper signage and lighting and security, but Laura’s death proves that isn’t always true. The hospital where Laura went didn’t even have something as simple as an illuminated Emergency sign above the right door for her to have used,” DeMarco said. “If Laura’s Law had existed that sign would have existed. She would have walked through the door, and she’d be alive today.”

Under Laura’s Law, the Department of Public Health would be required to create state standards for all hospital in Massachusetts to ensure safe, timely and accessible access to emergency departments.

According to DeMarco’s Globe story, Laura chose a locked door to try to access the emergency room because the correct door was not properly marked. Though Laura was on surveillance video, the hospital security desk was left unattended all night, so no one saw her. When a nurse from the emergency department eventually looked out the door for Laura, she did not see her, as the spot where Laura collapsed was in near darkness.

“Laura lost every coin flip that morning. But If you’re having an asthma attack, or a heart attack, or you are about to die from a drug overdose, a single impediment to getting inside an emergency room as quickly as possible can mean the difference between life or death,” DeMarco said. “I hope so much that through Laura’s death, someone else’s life will be saved. It’s why this bill needs to pass.”

Laura’s Law would not go into effect until after the governor’s COVID-19 state of emergency has been lifted.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.