The ambulance entrance to the former CHA Somerville Hospital emergency room. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The state Legislature passed “Laura’s Law” on Tuesday – a bill that would require every hospital emergency department in the state to have entrances that are monitored properly by security, clearly marked and easily accessible, particularly to patients in distress. The law was inspired by Laura Levis, 34, who died of an asthma attack just steps from an emergency-room door in 2016.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed the bill late Tuesday; the State Senate approved the bill in October. Somerville’s state Rep. Christine P. Barber and state Sen. Pat Jehlen were lead sponsors.

The bill is now before Gov. Charlie Baker, who must sign the bill to enact it as law. Officially named “An act to ensure safe patient access to emergency care,” it would not go into effect until after the state’s Covid-19 state of emergency has been lifted.

“This bill is critical to protect patient safety, especially in emergencies, and I am proud that the House prioritized passing this bill before the end of our legislative session,” Barber said in a press release. “Laura’s memory inspires us to make these common-sense changes to protect others from harm.”

Fatal design flaws

Peter DeMarco, Levis’ husband, worked with the sponsors’ offices to draft and pass the bill. In an article he wrote for The Boston Globe, he documented numerous failings at CHA Somerville Hospital the morning Levis approached it, alone, in the midst of a severe asthma attack at 4 a.m. The hospital lacked an illuminated, emergency room sign above any door for her to have followed, which led Levis to choose the wrong door – which was locked. Panic-stricken, her attack intensified and she collapsed before she could reach the correct door.

“In an emergency, every minute counts. The dim lights and unclear signage took minutes from Laura that cost her life,” Jehlen said.

Under Laura’s Law, the state Department of Public Health would for the first time create standards for hospital emergency departments regarding signs, lighting, wayfinding and the security monitoring of doors.

Emergency room is gone

The 24-hour emergency room where Levis died has been removed and turned into an urgent care clinic with more limited hours. With that change, Somerville Hospital ceased to be; as part of the Cambridge Health Alliance, the site is now known as the CHA Somerville Campus.

Saturday would have been Laura’s birthday, DeMarco said. “She was so smart, funny, strong, beautiful. She’d just gotten a promotion at Harvard University. She was entering the best years of her young life. I have struggled every day with her death, but now that Laura’s Law has been passed, her loss will also have incredible meaning. A brighter sign, a guard at the security desk, a clearly marked door – any one of these things could make a huge difference to someone who’s having a heart attack or a stroke, or an asthma attack, or someone who’s overdosed on drugs and rushes to a hospital. I hope I never have to hear of someone ever again dying steps from an emergency-room door. And that will all be because of Laura,” he said.


This post took significant amounts of material from a press release.

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