Dispatcher fired for failing to call ambulance

By Danielle Treadway and Samantha Swindler - Progress News Writers

Jacksonville police dispatcher Steven Morris, who began work at the police department in November 2002, was fired Monday after he failed to dispatch an ambulance to a 911 emergency call.

We placed the employee on suspension while we were looking into it," said City Manager Bill Tackett. "We completed our investigation, and we separated the employee from the employment."

Transcripts of the 911 tapes obtained by the JDP confirm Joe Woosley first called 911 emergency at 8:57 p.m. Feb. 16 after his wife's feeding tube caught on her wheelchair and ripped from her stomach. Woosley explained the situation to the dispatcher and requested an ambulance.

"It will be the fire department (coming), right?" Woosley asked during the call.

"Yes," Morris said.

"Because that's what I've had them do before," Woosley said.

"I'll send them right over," Morris said, ending the call.

Twenty-three minutes later, no ambulance had arrived, and Joe Woosley's daughter, Carla Wise, made a second 911 call.

Morris told Wise an ambulance was on the way, adding, "I've advised them of that but I can speed them up."

But Fire Chief Rodney Kelley said that's a lie.

In fact, the fire department, which dispatches the ambulances, reported it never got a call or a page about the Woosleys' emergency until after the second call.

Morris made a test page to the fire department two minutes after Wise's call. Kelley said that is highly unusual, as test pages occur "only when we're working on the radio equipment. You don't test page at 9-10 p.m. at night."

After the test page, Morris called the fire department - not protocol for a 911 call.

He said he had a "non-emergency" call about a woman's feeding tube, and asked the fire department what the family should do. The fire department told Morris it was not a life-threatening event, and the family should speak to Tyler dispatch - the only department qualified to give pre-arrival medical instructions to a caller.

During the call, Morris even suggested to the fire department employee Mrs. Woosley should get her "lazy ***" to the hospital herself.

Kelley said his department never knew Morris was referencing an emergency call and never knew ambulance service was needed. Kelley added all 911 calls are considered emergency calls and should be paged, not phoned, to the fire department.

"He's supposed to page us out. He didn't do that," Kelley said. "He never said 'emergency,' he never said '911.' He downgraded it to us. He needed to call Tyler dispatch and have them call the family."

In fact, Kelley said Morris should have paged the fire department after the first call and transferred Mr. Woosely to Tyler dispatch so he could receive medical instructions.

Instead, in a third call between the family and the dispatcher, Morris called the family himself and told them to contact Tyler dispatch. He said ambulance service for Mrs. Woosely was not emergency care, and would be a "courtesy transport," costing the family several hundred dollars.

Three things are wrong with that statement, Kelley said.

First, Kelley said, "you should never tell the family they should call Tyler dispatch."

Second, the dispatcher should never decide the definition of emergency care or warn the patients of the ambulance bills.

"There is a business side to this," Kelley said, "but when you call 911 that doesn't even come into the picture."

Finally, as for the term "courtesy transport," Kelley said, "He invented that."

Police offer courtesy transports to stranded motorists, not EMS. EMS offers transport services, but those calls, Kelley said, never come through 911. Transport services are usually between hospitals or nursing homes.

In the fourth 911 call, Wise called back to get her story on record. She said the dispatcher told her it was not a "life or death situation," then asked her if she had a way of taking her mother to the hospital.

Wise said she did have a way of getting her there in a van. She said the dispatcher then asked if she wanted him to go ahead and send an ambulance, but since she had already waited over half an hour, Wise decided to take her mother herself.

"I understand," Morris said during the conversation. "If you want to file a complaint, you need to call our administrative line."

Wise didn't call the administrative line, but she did call the JDP, which first alerted the City of Jacksonville a week ago about the problem.

Tackett responded to a JDP Freedom of Information request for the 911 tapes by providing the three calls coming into the 911 center, but calls made by Morris to the fire department and the Woosley household were originally omitted from the materials delivered to the paper. Tackett agreed to provide transcripts of those additional calls only after learning the JDP already knew about them, but he had not done so as of press time.

Mrs. Woosley's feeding tube was reinserted after Wise brought her to the hospital, and she is at home recovering.

Her husband reported Monday afternoon she was doing fine.