By Michael Neibauer
The Washington Examiner
WASHINGTON, DC — D.C. residents who require emergency medical assistance are in good hands despite a "major breakdown in protocol" when a paramedic declined to take a toddler to the hospital who was struggling to breathe, Fire Chief Dennis Rubin claims.
D.C. police are investigating the death of 2-year-old Stephanie Stevens to see whether there was criminal negligence by the paramedic crew that responded to her home Feb. 10 but did not to take her to the hospital. Stephanie's mom called 911 a second time, 10 hours later, as the girl's breathing worsened. She died the next day.
A similar case from December of not transporting a 911 patient, though not fatal, also is under review.
"I see them as total failures," Rubin said under questioning from D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson, chairman of the public safety committee. "I would hope that they're exceptions."
Rubin, chief of the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, is under fire from union leaders who allege the career firefighter is unqualified to run EMS programs. The District is "settling for mediocrity" by maintaining a department that performs both fire and EMS functions, Kenneth Lyons, president of the union that represents EMS providers, said Friday.
About 85 percent of all calls to FEMS are medical, but the department's focus is squarely on fires, Lyons said. Only a separate agency "would allow for growth necessary to create a medically driven world-class EMS service."
Rubin accepted "public responsibility for failure" in Stephanie's case. But he said FEMS has improved since the early 2006 death of New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum, who was misdiagnosed as a passed out drunk and then taken to the wrong hospital. A scathing report from the D.C. inspector general in June 2006 found "alarming levels of complacency and indifference" in the FEMS department.
The Rosenbaum case spurred an EMS task force, led by Rubin, and implementation of the "All-Hazards" model, in which firefighters and EMTs are trained in both disciplines. They must "learn to work cooperatively together as a single unit for the benefit of the public," the chief said, as "teamwork can and will make a difference for improving the quality of EMS within the District."
"If we can't work effectively as a team in the same department," Rubin said, "we certainly could not function as a team in separate departments."
The District's EMS system, the chief said, "is not broken."
But nearly four years after the IG report's release, Mendelson said, "I think to a lot of people it still rings true."
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