Did Rationed Health Care Contribute to Actress’ Death?

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

A prominent Canadian trauma doctor is saying that the lack of a medical helicopter in Quebec, due to the kind of rationing imposed on the system by socialized medicine, may have contributed to the death of actress Natasha Williamson.

The 45 year-old Tony award-winning actress hit her head after a fall on a ski slope at the Mont Tremblant resort in Quebec on Mar. 16 and died two days later of an epidural hematoma (bleeding between the skill and the brain).  At the time of the accident, Richardson seemed fine and refused medical care. Two  hours later, however, she called 911 complaining of a bad headache.

“It’s impossible for me to comment specifically about her case, but what I could say is … driving to Mont Tremblant from the city (Montreal) is a two and a half hour trip, and the closest trauma center is in the city. Our system isn’t set up for traumas and doesn’t match what’s available in other Canadian cities, let alone in the States,” said Tarek Razek, director of trauma services for the McGill University Health Centre, which represents six of Montreal’s hospitals.

As a result, medics responded to her 911 call, and drove her to a hospital that was 40 minutes away. This hospital was unable to handle the case and she had to be driven to a specialized hospital in Montreal which was over two hours away.

Centre Hospitalier Laurentien in Ste-Agathe does not specialize in head traumas, so her speedy transfer to Sacre Coeur Hospital in Montreal was critical, said Razek.

“It’s one of the classic presentations of head injuries, `talking and dying,’ where they may lose consciousness for a minute, but then feel fine,” said Razek.

Consequently, Richardson did not receive the help she needed until four hours after she called 911.

Not being airlifted directly to a trauma center could have cost Richardson crucial moments, Razek said.

“A helicopter is obviously the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B,” he said.

Unfortunately, the province of Quebec does not have a medical helicopter system and there is no way to airlift critically injured patients to major trauma centers.

Richardson, daughter of British actress Vanessa Redgrave and wife of actor Liam Neesom, was transferred from Montreal to New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital where she died on March 18.

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