Massachusetts hospitals are now required to have emergency department entrances that are easy to access. They will also have to be properly monitored by security and clearly marked. This is a result of “Laura’s Law” that was signed by Governor Charlie Baker on Jan. 15, 2021.
The Boston Globe story, “Losing Laura,” inspired the law. The story is about the tragic death of Laura Beth Levis. Laura was a 34-year-old woman who died of an asthma attack just steps from an emergency room door in 2016.
Laura’s husband, journalist Peter DeMarco, wrote her story. He also co-wrote and helped pass the new law.
“When you are in a crisis rushing to a hospital, the last thing you should worry about is, ‘Will I have trouble finding or getting inside the emergency department?” Peter said. “Laura’s Law will eliminate that worry for everyone in my state – especially for people with asthma. Lives will be saved because of these new standards, all because of Laura.”
In “Losing Laura,” Peter wrote about how Laura arrived alone and on foot at her local hospital in the middle of an asthma attack around 4 a.m. one September morning. No one was at the hospital’s security desk. The hospital’s main entrance was almost dark, and not a single door had a lit emergency sign above it. Confused about how to enter, Laura chose the wrong door which was locked. Her attack overcame her.
Kenneth Mendez, President and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), reached out to Peter after learning of Laura's story two years ago. He offered his sympathy and any help AAFA could lend. Since then, AAFA has worked with Peter to see Laura’s Law passed. We provided critical help in early January when it appeared the bill might die in committee due to a legislative backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Working with Peter, AAFA helped coordinate a last-minute “Don’t Forget Laura’s Law” campaign. Supporters made more than 500 phone calls and sent more than 1,700 emails to key Massachusetts lawmakers in just a few days. The bill passed hours before a midnight deadline on Jan. 5, 2021. It was signed by the governor 10 days later.
Under Laura’s Law, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is creating standards for emergency department signs, lighting, directional marking, and the security monitoring of any major hospital door. Massachusetts State Senator Pat Jehlen and Massachusetts State Rep. Christine Barber sponsored the bill.
“I hope every state one day has its own Laura’s Law,” Peter said.
AAFA sent a letter of support to Massachusetts State House leaders in early 2019 after the bill was filed. The former Executive Director of AAFA New England testified at a public hearing on Laura’s Law in September 2019.
AAFA has also shared Laura’s story. Peter has worked as well to increase asthma awareness on a national level. Peter has written about Laura for The New York Times, and her story has appeared on NBC Nightly News, NPR, People.com, and other media outlets. He also shared Laura’s story in person with AAFA’s board of directors before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Without AAFA’s support, I don’t believe Laura’s Law would have passed. We had to shout so loudly for it in the end, and AAFA made that possible,” said Peter.
Peter and Laura remind us why we advocate: one death from asthma is one too many.