Somerville Aldermen hold moment of silence for woman who died outside hospital, discuss medical emergency response

Jackson Cote/for the Boston Globe
Peter DeMarco speaks before the Somerville Board of Aldermen Thursday night.

The Somerville Board of Aldermen held a moment of silence at its meeting Thursday evening for Laura Levis, the 34-year-old woman who died in 2016 of a severe asthma attack just steps away from the emergency room at Somerville Hospital.

After board members bowed in silence, Alderwoman Stephanie Hirsch expressed sympathy to Levis’s family.

“Laura’s family has grieved her loss intensely these past two years and have borne the extra burden of trying to understand the causes of her death,” Hirsch said shortly after the start of the 7 p.m. meeting. “We offer prayers and comfort to them and a commitment to help them and our community improve the systems of emergency response ... so that others may not suffer.”


Levis’s death was highlighted in a recent article in the Boston Globe Magazine written by her husband, Peter DeMarco, who detailed the various communication breakdowns and staffing problems police, fire, and hospital staff faced that affected their response to Levis’s medical emergency.

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Hirsch referenced the story, saying Somerville officials must “ . . . figure out how to improve our incredibly complicated and broken health care systems.”

On Wednesday, three days after DeMarco’s story was published, Cambridge Health Alliance, which operates the hospital, apologized for not meeting its standards for “transparency and accountability” in Levis’s death, and pledged to improve its emergency response medical response protocols.

The board also discussed various measures to improve communications between 911 callers, particularly those using cell phones, and police and fire. Somerville should also do more to educate people about asthma.

Speaking to the board, DeMarco said he would support any motion raised by the board “to further discussions about public safety, 911 calls, [and] asthma education.”


He also said he is asking Somerville Hospital’s leaders to talk to him “directly and openly about Laura’s death, as they have not yet done so.”

He said he appreciates the city’s efforts to address the communication issues involving his wife’s death.

“I’m not sure exactly how much influence anyone will have over Cambridge Health Alliance in addressing what went wrong in Laura’s death,” DeMarco said after the meeting. “But I have to hope that Somerville’s leaders will at least try.”

Jackson Cote can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jackson_k_cote.