This past January 27, 2016, an adult male outpatient attending a group session at Arbour Counseling Services (ACS), Lawrence became physically ill during lunch. Everything after that happened very fast.

At first, no one realized he was choking on some food. The adult male in his 60s left his lunch table and approached staff member Jessica Soto, M.Ed., whom he knew well, in obvious distress. He did not indicate that he was choking, but was breathing heavily and was having difficulty standing.Immediately 911 was called as he was helped by several staff members to a prone position on the floor and rolled on his side. When he lost consciousness, Jessica started CPR.

Joseline Gonzalez, MS, LMHC, the director of Lawrence’s Partial Hospitalization Program, says that everyone jumped into action, “Every one of the staff members did their part without hesitation.” Some cleared the area, others went to reassure nervous members of the group that had been meeting at the time, Joseline called the patient’s emergency contact and had the 911 operator on speaker, Maria Gaticales, MD, staff psychiatrist, was supervising the clinical response and both she and Angel Aponte, medical assistant, were assisting Jessica as she performed CPR. “I am very proud of Jessica’s response. Of course we have plans in place to deal with emergency events like this, but when something actually happens, it is a true test of your team’s preparedness.”

Mike Gaudet, LICSW, Director of Quality Assurance, Corporate Compliance and Privacy Officer, Arbour Counseling Services, couldn’t agree more. According to Mike, “Regulations require at least one person on duty at all times that is certified in CPR and other emergency procedures by the Red Cross, the American Heart Association, or a similar organization. Just about every month, there is a review of procedure on responding to emergencies. There are a series of drills and one of them is on medical emergencies. Events like the one in Lawrence don’t happen that often, but when they do, it shows how valuable our drills are. All our staff at all of our locations know exactly what needs to be done when faced with any one of a number of different types of emergencies.”

It was only moments before the patient was able to expel the food to completely clear his trachea and quickly revived as the paramedics arrived. After the event, Ester Lan, M.Ed., debriefed the remaining outpatient group members as Joseline debriefed her staff.

The patient returned the next day, completely recovered and very appreciative. “He walked in with a big smile and said, ‘I can’t believe what happened and I’m so thankful to all of you. You saved my life!’ ” Joseline says, “I am very proud of my team!”


From AHS News, March/April 2016