Patty Resch remembers her father, Jack Cadden of Orcas Island, as a man who spent his life serving others. He was a Marine who fought in the South Pacific during World War II. When he returned home, he went to work for Orcas Power and Light for 35 years.
“His motto was work. He had a backhoe, he dug ditch all over the island,” remembered Resch.
Cadden lived alone on a ranch. His only link to safety if he couldn't reach the phone was his medical alert system. In November, a communications line was cut to the San Juan Islands, rendering phone, internet and cell phones useless. So when the 88-year-old Cadden got sick and tried to use his medical alert device during the outage, he was left all alone. Resch discovered her father in distress during one of her daily visits.
“I said, dad, why didn't you push your help button?” remembered Resch. “He said, I did, over and over and over.”
Dr. Michael Sullivan, the medical director for San Juan County EMS, said Resch was critically ill when emergency responders arrived at his house.
“They initially thought he might be having a stroke. But it was much more. He had an overwhelming infection and so many of his organ systems were failing at that point,” said Dr. Sullivan.
Cadden was transported to St. Joseph's Hospital in Bellingham, where he died two days later. Dr. Sullivan said in an emergency, every second has a price.
“In the setting of an overwhelming infection, every minute that you wait for life saving antibiotics can be critical,” explained Dr. Sullivan.
According to documents obtained from the Orcas Island Fire Department, the day after Cadden’s incident a woman was sick, on the floor of her home for two days, unable to use her device.
“When you lay on the floor for a significant period of time, you can sustain additional injury from your original injury and that can be life threatening as well,” said Dr. Sullivan.
The victim survived but suffered organ damage. Both incidents pushed the Orcas Island Fire Department and San Juan County EMS to try a Hail Mary with the companies.
“One of the thoughts was, let's contact these providers and get the information. One company did provide us information, another company didn't,” said Dr. Sullivan.
According to the law, these companies have no legal obligation to provide any information to emergency personnel. So folks like Jack Cadden have no backup if their line to the outside world is cut. But that may change after I took my findings to state Senator Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island.
“Some of the information you brought forward really galvanized for me the method that we may be able to take,” said Sen. Ranker.
Ranker wrote Senate Bill 6554. It would provide a mechanism for these medical alert companies to hand over the necessary information to emergency personnel without a subpoena. The bill has support from the industry and according to Ranker will be the first of its kind in the country.
And that's all Resch wants for her and in her father's memory.
“That bill should pass so that someone like my dad is asking for help, gets help. He doesn't have to lay there for two hours, waiting for someone to come and assist him with his medical emergency,” said Resch.