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  • Jack Ward

Waiting for no one

This was an RMIT assignment completed in my first-year studying a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism),


Golda Shulkes has never felt more helpless than she did waiting for an ambulance that would never arrive.

PHOTO: Golda Shulkes will never forget watching a taxi driver carry her dying husband from their kitchen. (Jack Ward)

As her 80-year-old husband Garry wailed in pain in the early hours of May 29, Ms Shulkes called triple zero five times within an hour to no avail.


“I started ringing the ambulance immediately and nothing happened. They received my name and address. Nothing happened,” she said.


“I then rang again at 3:30am, nothing happened. And then I rang again three times - there was no response.”


Ms Shulkes, 75, paced to and from the street to see if help was on its way until her patience ran thin.

“I'm not a doctor, and therefore I wanted to get him into a hospital that would help him feel less pain,” she said.


“The ambulance didn’t come so I called a taxi.”


An independent investigation released yesterday found this was a reality faced by dozens of families between December 2020 and May 2022.


The Inspector-General for Emergency Management, Tony Pearce, reviewed emergency calls and found 40 “potential adverse events” linked to triple zero and ambulance delays.


He found at least 33 people died after delays with Victoria’s triple-0 call taking system.


Mr Pearce said it was not possible for him to conclude whether the call delays impacted on the final outcome of individuals.


"The fact that the system was just not able to cope with what it was being presented with was the worst finding for me,” he said.


Mr Peace has recommended a boost in ESTA’s long-term funding to ensure there are enough resources in the future, and better education on when to call emergency services.


It is too little too late for Ms Shulkes who will never forget convincing a taxi driver to carry her husband from the kitchen to his cab.


“I think he was stunned at the fact that I asked him to come in and take my husband,” she said.


He was driven to Cabrini Hospital in Malvern where he died later that day.


Ms Shulkes said she “had no idea he was going to die” when a nurse suggested she go home for rest

.

“I went back at two o'clock and he was asleep, and then at seven o'clock I got a phone call. He had died,” she said.


Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes said the release of the review would be upsetting for families affected.

“But I do want to assure those people, and I've spoken to many of them, that our efforts in this regard is off the back of their stories, their experiences,” she said.


"I am, of course, deeply sorry for the loss, your trauma, your grief.


“It's driven me every day to work very hard to secure the funding from government that ESTA has required to ensure that Victorians have a system they rely on."


She said the state government is implementing all recommendations and investing $333 million which will assist in onboarding 400 extra staff at ESTA.


The absence of Premier Daniel Andrews following the report’s release was highlighted by Opposition Leader Matthew Guy who said families “deserve an answer.”


“The whole system may need to be overhauled. Do whatever is required to fix the crisis in our health service from answering ambulance calls to getting a bed in ED,” he said.


“I cannot understand what other function is there for government, particularly state government, then to provide a health system and an ambulance network that works when people need it.”


It is unclear whether the timely arrival of an ambulance would have saved Garry Shulkes life, or the lives of other Victoria.


With her husband gone, Ms Shulkes is seeking more than an apology from the state government. She said families affected should be compensated for their loss.


“There's nobody that can replace their partner, their husband, their brother, their sister,” she said.


“I will not stop fighting. I want justice. And I want Daniel Andrews to see that I'm not just any person, I'm a person who lost a husband, who was in great pain but could not be saved.”

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