A 70-year-old man suffered a cardiac episode Sunday next to the de Young Museum, and while the museum is facing tough questions after staff allegedly refused to lend their defibrillator as he died, the museum says an ambulance was already there.
Golden Gate Park’s prestigious de Young Museum has certainly brought us some outstanding exhibits, but has also often earned some shade and side-eye. Last year they bankrolled an effort to bring cars back to the car-free JFK Promenade, and a few years before, there were some financial impropriety allegations that forced the resignation of then-board president and society pages staple Dede Wilsey from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco organization that oversees the de Young and a few other local museums.
But whatever blowback they got for that is nothing compared to the outcry already forming over an incident outside the museum this weekend. The Chronicle reports that the de Young Museum allegedly refused to lend their defibrillator to a non-patron, according to an account from the scene, and the man died from a heart episode shortly after the museum turned down the urgent request for its use.
A de Young Museum worker's refusal to lend the museum's defibrillator after a man collapsed nearby in Golden Gate Park has prompted a wrenching ethical question after the man later died of apparent heart failure. https://t.co/BE2eBrgpZm— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) November 1, 2023
The victim of the heart episode is Gary Hobish, seen above, a regular at the weekly Sunday Lindy in Park dance party that happens just next to the museum.
Update: The de Young Museum addressed the matter in a Friday statement to SFist. "When asked for help after Mr. Hobish collapsed, staff at the de Young Museum tried to determine the best response they could make within museum policy as they understood it, running out to the park to assess what was happening," the statement says. "When they reached the scene, within 5 minutes of the ask, they found that an ambulance was already at the scene, which they immediately informed the individual who had made the request before he exited the building."
Per the Chronicle’s reporting, Hobish collapsed at around 1:30 p.m. while dancing, as he suffered from a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Friend and fellow dance enthusiast Tim O’Brien then rushed to the museum to ask for the defibrillator, during a medical emergency when every second mattered, and time was of the essence.
An exasperated O’Brien says that a staffer at the museum checked with their supervisor, who insisted that the defibrillator could not be taken off the premises. And again, a de Young representative says the ambulance had already arrived.
Paramedics did eventually arrive and administer CPR. Hobish also hit his head badly after falling, paramedics were unable to receive him, and he died. He was 70.
“I am shaken, I am horrified and I want change,” O’Brien told the Chronicle. “The fact that two people in the museum had the option to say ‘yes’ means it was a systemic issue.”
In the aftermath, there’s plenty of social media outrage being directed at the museum. (And to answer the question above, Dede Wilsey is still kind of on the board for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, currently listed as the board’s “Chair Emerita.”)
It’s true, as the Chronicle points out, that no facility is under any legal obligation to lend out their defibrillator. And they also note the possibility of theft, or that someone in the museum might have suffered a heart attack while it was lent out. But still, this is an absolutely terrible look for the de Young Museum, and one imagines they’ll lose a few memberships over this matter.
“We don’t permit technical equipment beyond laptops to leave the building without permission,” the museum’s director of communications Helena Nordstrom said in a statement to the Chronicle earlier this week. “Then again, the event has prompted us to review the museums’ emergency response procedures for events that may occur outside the museum premises in the future so we can be as helpful as possible.”
We will also note that the late Gary Hobish was a well-respected recording engineer, who’d worked on albums for Creedence Clearwater Revival, Mac Dre, Elton John, Willie Nelson, and even Count Basie. He was also a mastering engineer at A. Hammer Mastering studio in San Francisco.
This post has been updated with a statement from the de Young Museum.
Image: Mark Miller via Wikimedia Commons