Hospital CEO issues statement, law expert ponders role of new EMS protocols in case of skier’s death

This week I talked to Curt Varone — a longtime firefighter, author and attorney with an expertise in fire and rescue law — to get some outside perspective on the case of David Morse, the 41-year-old Nova Scotia man who tied after hitting a tree on the slopes of Sugarloaf last Thursday.

David Morse

In the aftermath, Morse’s widow, a nurse practitioner, told The Chronicle Herald of Halifax that clinic and ambulance workers mishandled her husband’s case and then, while on the way to the hospital, left her on the side of the road when she asked to hold her dying husband’s hand.

The allegations triggered an internal investigation by Franklin Community Health Network, the organization that owns both the NorthStar ambulance service and the Farmington-based hospital it was initially transporting Morse to.

On Thursday, Varone wrote on his website,, about the role new protocols issued by Maine EMS might have played in the case of Morse.

Curt Varone

The new protocols were put in place by Maine EMS, a division of the state Department of Public Safety, starting Dec. 1, 2011, and, Varone writes, “specifically allow personnel to discontinue CPR and ALS activities following 20 minutes of unsuccessful resuscitation efforts.”

Dana Morse told The Chronicle Herald, in part, that after she was left roadside by the ambulance, she stopped a subsequent driver and hitched a ride back to Sugarloaf, where she picked up her car and went to Franklin Memorial Hospital in hopes of finding her husband. In the meantime, she said, the ambulance crew changed course and went back to Sugarloaf itself — leaving her questioning confused hospital workers about where her dying husband was when he’d never ultimately been brought there.

Varone writes that, under the new protocol, medics may have been following the procedures given to them in discontinuing resuscitation efforts en route and turning back.

Here’s an excerpt from Varone’s piece on the topic:

It would … appear that if the widow’s allegations about NorthStar’s stopping treatment are in fact true, they may have been permitted by Maine EMS protocols. Left unexplained is the decision to leave Morse’s widow standing by the side of the road.

I would be interested to hear from readers about their state’s protocols for the termination of resuscitation. The traditional rule (old-school) was that resuscitation could only be discontinued when rescuers are physically exhausted, when equally or more highly trained health care personal take over, or when the patient regains pulse and respiration.

Varone’s latest analysis is not the only update due on this case. Today, Franklin Community Health Network CEO Rebecca Ryder issued a statement on her organization’s ongoing investigation, marking the first public comment from the institution since the story first broke earlier this week.

Here’s Ryder’s statement, according to a story attributed to the Associated Press and posted online today by WMTW TV in Portland:

I would ask everyone in our community and around the state of Maine to join me in extending our heartfelt sympathies to the family who lost their loved one last week as the result of a skiing accident. I have asked the employees in my organization to join me in doing the same.

I understand that this is a very difficult time for the patient’s family, and especially for his wife and children. I am committed to fully understanding all aspects of what occurred following this tragic accident, and will work toward that end.

Throughout this week, we have been conducting a review of this situation. As part of that fact-finding, all involved need to be interviewed, and we have not yet completed that process.

Integral to the mission of Franklin Community Health Network is providing high quality care to our patients and families. As president of the network, I am confident that the health professionals in our organization, which includes NorthStar ambulance service, have continued to maintain our values of expert clinical care and compassion, defined by consistently showing respect for all the people we serve.


Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.