BRICK – Nicole Sorchinski swears she’ll never return to Ocean Medical Center after an incident that occurred over this past weekend.
When Sorchinski suffered a seizure in her Jackson home on October 6, she and her service dog Nala were transported to Ocean Medical Center for treatment. Once there, she was told by a nurse to remove Nala from the emergency room or animal control would be called to take her away.
While Hackensack Meridian Health has issued a statement regarding the incident, Sorchinski maintains she has received no formal apology for how she believed she was treated.
Sorchinski sustained a TBI or traumatic brain injury three years ago that has left her suffering from occasional seizures. “Unfortunately, I’m going to be dealing with this for the rest of my life,” she said about her condition.
After seeing countless neurologists and specialists, Sorchinski has found medication that helps her to control her seizures better, but what really helps to heal her is her service dog, Nala.
Nala and Sorchinski came together when she was rescued from the Philadelphia Animal Control two years ago. Initially, Nala was not a trained service dog, but just a lovable Pitbull in need of a home.
Little did Sorchinski know that Nala would be her saving grace…literally. “Maybe it was meant to be,” she said.
About a year and a half ago, before Nala was certified as a service dog, Sorchinski suffered a seizure in her home. Nala knew something was wrong and went to notify Sorchinki’s dad, who then found her having a “full-blown seizure.”
“This happened three more times,” before she had Nala certified. In the past two years, Nala has helped Sorchinski survive three seizure incidents.
She noted that having Nala by her side at all times has “saved her life” because she tends to vomit or foam at the mouth during her seizures and it can asphyxiate her if Nala isn’t there to nudge her head into a safe position and notify the closest person for help. Nala’s distress signal is circling three times and then nudging on the closest person.
On October 6, Sorchinski was on the phone with a friend, who is also a local dispatcher, when she started to feel uneasy. She notified her friend to call 911 and when Jackson Police arrived at her home, Sorchinski was face down, seizing. She might have been in serious danger had Nala not been there to nudge her head away from the vomit, she said.
The paramedics transported Sorchinski and Nala to Ocean Medical Center in separate ambulances. “They were so accommodating,” she said about the paramedics.
So, it came as a surprise when she arrived in the emergency room and not even 15 minutes later she was told to remove Nala.
“A nurse manager came over and told me I had to remove her or she would call animal control to take her to the animal shelter,” said Sorchinski.
She described the nurse’s demeanor as “nasty,” even after she showed the nurse Nala’s credentials and service vest.
She scrambled to find someone to come pick Nala up from the hospital. When her friend Morgan took Nala, she told Sorchinski the dog was “distraught” and “crying” because she knew that something was wrong and did not want to leave her side, she said.
“When she’s wearing that vest, she knows she’s working,” said Sorchinski.
Feeling “unsafe and uncomfortable” in the hospital at that point, she then signed an AMA (Against Medical Advice) form and went home to Nala without treatment.
The incident left Sorchinski shocked; she had never before encountered difficulty bringing her service dog with her anywhere, including almost all other local hospitals. “I think it was breed discrimination,” against pit bull breeds, she stated.
About a month prior to this incident, Sorchinski spent about a week at CentraState in Freehold where she not only was allowed to have Nala with her, but the staff was accommodating to both her and Nala, bringing snacks and taking photos, she said.
Within 12 hours of the incident, Sorchinski suffered another seizure, brought on by stress which she believes to be directly related to the encounter at OMC.
While she has recovered fine, Sorchinski says she will “absolutely not” go back to Ocean Medical Center if she can help it.
Hackensack Meridian Health spokesperson Anne Green issued the following statement on October 9:
“We are deeply sorry for the experience expressed by our patient while visiting our Emergency Department. We are currently reviewing the situation to make certain protocols properly protect our patients and their service animals.
“Hackensack Meridian Health’s top priority is the health and safety of our patients. Our hospitals and team members are very supportive of service animals. We understand the important, life-saving role that service animals play in our patients’ lives and that they are an integral part of our patients’ families. That is why many of our hospitals offer pet therapy to provide comfort, healing and companionship for our patients.
“While our goal is to keep patients and their service animals together whenever possible, there are situations where our team members must focus on providing the highest quality care for our patients. During this time, we believe it’s important to ensure there is someone that can care for the service animal while we provide care to our patients.
“We are committed to educating the public about the importance of putting a plan in place for the care and safety of service animals during an Emergency Department visit. We are also committed to educating our team members on the importance of service animals and the actions that can be taken to ensure the service animal’s utmost safety.”