D.C. EMS Chief Apologizes for Man's Death

WASHINGTON -- The chief of fire and emergency medical services in the nation's capital apologized Monday to the family of a New York Times journalist who died while in the city's care.

Chief Adrian Thompson told Marcus Rosenbaum, whose brother died in January from a head injury after he was beaten and robbed Jan. 6, that he is sorry for the poor EMS response in the case. The apology came during a hearing before the city council's judiciary committee.

David Rosenbaum, 63, a longtime New York Times editor and reporter, was found on the sidewalk a block from his home, unable to speak coherently or sit up.

What happened next was a "chain of failures" representative of the widespread problems in the city's fire and EMS department, said Charles Willoughby, the city's inspector general.

The inspector general's office released a scathing report last week outlining a series of mistakes that preceded Rosenbaum's death:

*Emergency medical technicians ignored the severity of Rosenbaum's injury, labeling him a drunk. Rosenbaum had consumed wine before and during dinner and then had taken a stroll on the cold night. He was listening to stereo headphones when he was attacked.

* Though responders documented the severity of the situation correctly on their ambulance report, the crew drove past the nearest hospital and took Rosenbaum to Howard University Hospital, where he was left on a bed in a hallway and again labeled a drunk.

*An hour later, hospital workers diagnosed Rosenbaum's head injury, but it was too late. He died two days later.

Among other specific failures cited in the investigation:

*The senior firefighter on the responding truck has no medical training, not even a card indicating an ability to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

*One of the emergency technicians on the ambulance had been the subject of multiple complaints for more than three years from supervisors and peers, including one complaint after a 39-minute response time when a child was hit by a car.

*The ambulance crew got lost getting to Rosenbaum and then got lost driving him to the hospital.

*One of the EMTs complained that it was "bull----" to be responding to a call in Northwest Washington, far from their Southeast base.

"Quite frankly, it's bull---- that the citizens have to put up with this," said George Clark, president of the DC Federation of Citizens Associations, at the hearing. "We have EMTs who have been working on ambulances for years who don't know where the hospitals are."

Marcus Rosenbaum told the committee that his brother was "treated with such indifference it's hard to comprehend."

"Where is this indifference coming from?" he asks. "Why are these people doing these jobs if they don't want to do them?"

Willoughby's report cited significant performance-management problems, saying the department needs a system for evaluating the performance of firefighters.

Amit Wadhwa, the fire department's medical director, said he has no idea how many firefighters lack CPR certification. That data is being compiled now, he says.

Clark accused Thompson of attempting a "coverup" by initially assuring the public that everything went by the book in the Rosenbaum case.

"The inspector general got better information than we got," Thompson replied.

EMS leaders across the nation have been watching Washington closely because it exemplifies the struggle of many big cities to deliver good emergency medical care.

A USA TODAY investigation in 2003 found that Washington saves 10 times fewer victims of cardiac arrest, for instance, than does Seattle.

Thompson said some attempts to fix problems either "fell through the cracks" or "just wouldn't fly" with labor unions.

But Kenny Lyons, president of the city's paramedic union, said the blame rests with Thompson.

"When the light of day is shed on this agency, they scurry like rats into the corner," Lyons told the committee, which overseas the fire department. "This is your chance to make things right."

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