Florida woman says dispatcher took too long to send out ambulance for husband

A Lake County woman says it took too long for a 911 dispatcher to send an ambulance to help her husband. He died shortly after they arrived.

Kathy Susec-Boehm and her husband, Herman, of Lake County, often traveled throughout their marriage of more than 40 years.

Herman got sick after a European cruise in March. 

"He woke up at 3:40 in the morning. He said, 'Honey, I can’t breathe. His blood pressure and heartbeat went sky high. He said 'call 911,' so I did."

That call to Lake County's 911 took Kathy much longer than she expected. Here are parts of the 911 call:
Dispatcher: "Tell me exactly what happened."
Wife: "We were sleeping and my husband woke up. He has trouble breathing."
You can hear 86 year old Herman, struggling to breathe in the background.
Dispatcher: "Does anyone on scene have a fever, cough, difficulty breathing or any other flu-like symptoms?"
Wife: "He’s coughing, but he has no fever."
It was just at the beginning of the pandemic in Florida and the dispatcher continues to ask COVID questions.
Dispatcher: "Has anyone on scene known to be sick under investigation or isolation of coronavirus?"
Wife: "Not that I know of."
Dispatcher: "Has anyone on scene been tested for coronavirus or currently under investigation or isolation for coronavirus?"
Wife: "No."
Dispatcher: "Hold on."
After more than two minutes and 40 seconds of questioning, the dispatcher put Kathy on hold for 10 seconds and comes back on the line with even more questions.
Dispatcher: "OK. And has he had contact with a person who has traveled?"
Wife: (Raising voice) "He’s having trouble breathing. Do you want to send an ambulance or don’t you?"
Dispatcher:  "Ma’am, I’m going to send you an ambulance, but I have to verify the information with you."
Wife: "Well, will you please send it, please, he has a problem breathing."
Dispatcher: "I understand he has a problem breathing."
Wife: "That’s all the information you need."
Dispatcher: "I need more information than that. We have to gather safety information for the crews."
You can hear the patient pleading for help in the background.
Wife: "Just problem breathing. I gave him all his medication. He has a problem breathing." (Husband in the background: "Send somebody, please. Help me. Help me.")
Dispatcher: "Ma’am, does he have difficulty breathing, speaking between breaths?"
Wife: "He has a problem breathing."
Dispatcher: "But does he have a problem speaking between breaths?"
Wife: "Oh God, you must be something else. Are you gonna send an ambulance, so he can get some oxygen or not?"
Dispatcher: "I’m telling you, I’m going to send you an ambulance. I’m trying to get them on the way, but I need you to answer my questions."
According to the dispatcher's report, the call was received at 6:06 a.m. An ambulance is dispatched at about 6:12 a.m. At 6:35 a.m., Herman is pronounced dead.
Kathy said, "He was still talking when they came, but it was too late."

According to the medical examiner, Herman died of COVID-19 with cardiovascular disease as a contributing factor. It took nearly six minutes to dispatch an ambulance. Lake County says its average dispatch time is 61 seconds and wouldn't comment on this case specifically.

Lake County Public Safety Support Director Gregory Holcomb released a statement saying, in part: “As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves, we continue to analyze and evaluate our best practices as we work to maintain the health and safety of our residents and employees."


FOX 35 contacted four different Central Florida paramedic and law enforcement sources who said six minutes is too long for a dispatcher to send an ambulance, but all declined an on-camera interview.

Brevard Fire Rescue’s Assistant Chief Orlando Dominguez did agree to speak on camera as we played the six-minute 911 call for him.

"That’s obviously a little too long," he said.
FOX 35 checked with every county in Central Florida to find out average dispatch times. The time it takes for the operator to receive the call, collect information, and send help:

  • Orange: 0:45
  • Seminole: 1:04
  • Volusia: 1:30
  • Osceola: 1:45
  • Flagler: 2:08
  • Brevard: 2:00

In Brevard, Orlando said an ambulance is sent out after two minutes, automatically, citing that "We’d rather have somebody in route and once we get the information, we can always convey it, versus holding back until we get everything."
Kathy wonders what would have happened if an ambulance was sent immediately in Lake County.

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"He was just my life. And he’s not here now," she said.

Kathy says she also tested positive for COVID back in March but later donated her plasma in hopes of helping another patient with COVID-19.

As for the 911 call, she says she just wants an apology.

Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the latest Central Florida news.