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Learning from the tragic death of Laura Levis

Needed fixes to emergency room access now rest with the Massachusetts House, where good ideas too often go to die.

A view of the emergency entrance at Somerville Hospital, where changes were made to lighting, signage, and surveillance following the death of Laura Levis, a 34-year-old woman who was locked outside the emergency room in 2016. Proposed legislation is intended to codify such safety measures in state law.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Every now and then something good can come out of tragedy — a way forward, so that at the very least another family will be spared a similar preventable tragedy.

Laura’s Law, which would require new state standards to assure safe and reliable access to hospital emergency rooms, is just such a piece of legislation. And after nearly two years of being on a legislative back burner, it’s time has certainly come.

Readers may remember the heartbreaking story of Laura Levis, written by her husband, journalist Peter DeMarco, in the Globe Magazine in November 2018. “Losing Laura” documented the sequence of events beginning the morning of Sept. 16, 2016, when the 34-year-old Levis, knowing she was suffering an asthma attack at about 4 a.m., attempted to find the emergency room entrance at Somerville Hospital.


“Laura made it to the doorstep of the emergency room that day, on her own two feet,” DeMarco wrote, based on the evidence he collected. “She stared through a plate-glass window into the emergency room waiting area — she could see the red-and-white emergency room sign inside — but she could not get in. To her dismay, the door was locked.”

Her body deprived of oxygen, Levis collapsed 29 feet from the emergency room door. She died five days later.

DeMarco has made it part of his life’s mission to prevent the next such tragedy and the one after that.

So Laura’s Law was born, requiring the state Department of Public Health to draft and implement regulations to “ensure safe, timely and accessible patient access to hospital emergency rooms or departments at all times.” The bill specifically mentions “legible indoor and outdoor signage,” and lighting and monitoring of all emergency room access points.

“All those provisions seem like common sense,” said Senator Pat Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat, speaking during last week’s Senate session. “But for Laura Levis in 2016, none of those basic things were available. That’s why I filed this bill and why it’s a priority for me and many others.”


She noted that, in the wake of DeMarco’s article, other hospitals and health care facilities have taken a fresh look at ER access points and found them wanting.

“Hospitals are complex and confusing places, even if you’re not in the middle of a medical emergency,” Jehlen said. “But people who go to emergency rooms are in trouble already. If you’re having a heart attack or a stroke, you don’t want to waste a minute.”

The Cambridge Health Alliance, of which Somerville Hospital is a member, has also supported the bill. After nearly two years of waiting, the Senate passed the bill during an informal session — usually an indication of almost universal agreement on its merit — and with minority leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester expressing the hope that the House, too, would act “in a timely fashion.”

Too often this year — admittedly a difficult one in which to conduct the public’s business — the main enemy of worthy legislation has been inertia. Well, inertia combined with a larger-than-usual dose of inter-branch rivalry.

And while the Senate has advanced a number of good ideas — a mental health access and parity bill and a bill aimed at lowering the cost of prescriptions drugs among them — they remained stalled in the House, which seems too often to be the place where good ideas go to die.


Laura’s Law shouldn’t become one of those bargaining chips lawmakers like to amass to trade in for something else of value. It’s as straightforward a piece of legislation as there is. And more than just a tribute to a wonderful young woman who left this life and this community too soon, it is an overdue change to prevent the next such tragic loss.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.