Chiefland Citizen

EMS complaint may spark probe

By Mike Bowdoin and Ken Dougherty

State and county officials are conducting investigations into a complaint containing allegations that the policies and practices of Levy County's Emergency Medical Services administration could potentially cause harm to citizens in need of emergency care.

The complaint, released to news media this week by a confidential source claiming to be a "Concerned Whistleblower and EMS Provider" with experience working for Levy EMS, contains charges that the department's policies are adversely affecting the response time for emergency medical care, preventing the implementation of lifesaving equipment and compromising public safety by not addressing staffing shortages.

The document also alleges questionable medical oversight, business and administrative practices by the Levy EMS executive staff.

This Tuesday after being apprised of the complaint, which has reportedly been filed with the state's Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, Levy County Commissioner Tony Parker promised the board would investigate thoroughly.

"We take any allegations seriously," Parker said, adding that the commission remains supportive of the county's emergency workers. "We have a fine group of EMS employees and we stand behind them."

On Wednesday morning County Coordinator Fred Moody said the county office had not received official notification of an investigation at that time, but the board has received a copy of the complaint from a media source and is prepared to conduct an internal investigation if necessary.

"We haven't officially, other than what we've heard on television and radio reports, received actual notice," Moody said. "We are aware that there's a complaint, and we're definitely going to do our own investigation into the allegations."

The fact that the identity of the complainant has remained a secret does not affect the board's outlook, he said.

"Whether it's anonymous or not, there's several things in there, it raises some concerns that we feel we need to look at," Moody said.

As of Wednesday morning the county had not yet formally initiated an investigation, but Moody said he had asked Levy EMS Director Marie Wells - one of three EMS officials named in the complaint - to respond to the allegation, and turned the matter over to the county's legal department. County Attorney Anne Brown had no comment for the press on Wednesday.

Moody said the board is also seeking guidance from its labor relations attorney and public risk insurance company. If the state does conduct a full investigation, the county could wait for those results, or if not, the county's options include hiring independent counsel to conduct a probe.

One of the most serious allegations in the complaint involves a charge that policies put in place by Levy EMS administrators delayed a response to a person who had a heart attack in a Chiefland restaurant, who eventually died. This Wednesday Chiefland Fire Chief David Burnett said that the report of the incident is accurate to the best of his knowledge.

Burnett and one of his co-workers who is a trained emergency medical technician were having lunch at a local establishment within sight of the Burger King in which a woman collapsed and lying on a restroom floor.

"I heard a broadcast alerting the Chiefland PD (police department) about the incident," Burnett explained, "then I called in to see if the fire department had been notified."

The incident report states that Burnett and Firefighter David P. Florance went to the location and found a bystander giving the victim CPR, then helped emergency medical personnel get the patient ready for transport and onto a stretcher.

Burnett said that he is unsure when the EMS was notified, but he is sure that there was a delay before he made himself aware of the situation. He and Florance could have been on the scene to provide basic life support for the victim within two minutes.

The victim in that incident, a Chiefland woman, later died, but there is no documentation that suggests she might have survived the incident under other circumstances.

He also confirmed, and provided a copy, of a county policy not to call volunteer fire departments in a first responder capacity for other than driving and lifting assistance, and that volunteer firefighters, many of whom are trained emergency medical technicians, were not to be given any emergency medical equipment.

Burnett explained that in April a process began to get local firefighters involved as first responders with the training and equipment they need to handle the immediate needs of patients.

The allegation that the emergency medical service is understaffed and sometimes personnel are forced to work three 24-hour shifts is one the union that represents the employees in the service has complained about in the past.

He said once protocols and procedures are established and agreed upon by county officials, firefighters can become first responders. That will happen, he said, as soon as county and city officials sign a memorandum of understanding.