Memphis mom left on hold with 911 while child was unresponsive

For the second consecutive day, FOX13 is sharing the story of a family left helpless when the Shelby County 911 emergency center placed someone in need of assistance on hold.

Laura Matthews said she spent eight minutes on hold with 911 after she found her three-year-old son unconscious on the bathroom floor. All the while, his limp body laid in her lap.

“I came back and I found one of my twins face-down on the floor, unresponsive,” Matthews said. “I really thought he was going to die in my arms.”

When she was finally transferred to an operator, she said there was a technical glitch.

“At this point he's in my arms, his body is totally limp, his eyes are rolling back in his head,” Matthews said. “There were moments when I couldn't even tell if he was breathing. I hung up the phone with 911, and just handed Oliver, the three-year-old, in distress and unresponsive to [my husband] in the car, and he raced to Le Bonheur.”

Doctors told Matthews her son had a seizure, but he’s going to be OK. Still, Matthews told FOX13 something has to be done to fix the problems at Shelby County’s emergency dispatch center.

“It's really scary to think about,” Matthews said. “I worry about folks in extremely dire situations who might not have fared so well. I think right now, with the 911 system and the city just being in an awful state, folks might need to be prepared to drive themselves.”

FOX13 asked incoming city leaders what will be done about the issue when Mayor-Elect Jim Strickland and new city leaders take their seats at City Hall.

Strickland said he’s already received complaints and messages of concern.

“I got an email today from a lady whose child had a medical condition and had to wait too long on 911,” Strickland said Monday. “There's nothing more important to the citizens than public safety, and 911 is an important component of that.”

Incoming City Councilman Worth Morgan reached out to Matthews when he saw her 911 story circulating online.

“Eight minutes on hold, that's ridiculous,” Morgan said. “If we can't get an operator on the line for eight minutes, it's impossible to even triage the call, to see is it a priority, is it not a priority.”

Morgan said dispatchers and emergency crews told him one of the main issues is emergency lines being flooded with non-emergency calls.

“We have 36 ambulances and they're usually full by noon,” Morgan said. “A lot of that is because of non-emergency calls. We have a big education issue in Memphis, of what is an emergency call and what's not an emergency call.”

The fire department goes door-to-door, handing out brochures that explain to people what is and is not an emergency call.

According to the fire department, the following to not justify an emergency response, and you should not call 911:

-To get a prescription filled

-To ask a question or make a prank call

-To pay a ticket

-To report a broken fire hydrant

-To ask for a ride to the doctor

-When a pet is stuck or sick

-To seek help for minor cuts

-To get an ambulance so you can get a faster medical treatment from the E.R. This does not get you quicker attention.

The fire department encourages you to call 911 for:

-House, business or car fires

-Tree or brush fires

-Heart attacks or strokes

-Severe bleeding

-Serious burns

-Life-threatening injury or illness

-Fainting or passing out

-Difficulty breathing or not breathing

-Critical car accident


-When someone is badly injured

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