Mayor shaking up Coulee Dam ambulance service
In the wake of state inspections and allegations of harassment and retaliation, the mayor of Coulee Dam has ordered immediate changes in the town’s paid volunteer ambulance service, some of which have sparked threats of EMTs purposely not responding, he said.
The state Department of Health inspected the ambulance May 8 at the invitation of Mayor Greg Wilder and found a dozen “areas of non-compliance” with state law and standards.
Those were detailed in a letter to Fire Chief Robert Jackson dated May 14. Issues cited ranged from candy bars on the floor of the driver’s compartment to a heart defibrillator that doesn’t work, with a red “X” indicator that was covered up. They included “substantial dirt and debris on floor and shelves” of the ambulance, disorganized equipment compartments, missing splints, and the vehicle’s license mounted on the windshield.
Devices for delivering oxygen to patients were stored in a small cabinet where access “takes additional time during time critical events,” they reported.
Inspectors also noted that the ambulance department sometimes allows non-certified individuals to staff the ambulance, and that EMTs don’t have access to locked-up supplies they need to restock it after a run.
When they visited May 8, inspectors could not access emergency medical service training records, personnel certification records, supply records, or vehicle maintenance records.
But records they could access indicated that the ambulance did not meet state response time requirements 43 percent of the time.
EMS Section Supervisor Michael C. Lopez of the Office of Community Health Systems told the fire department to develop a corrective action plan by June 15, but fix that defibrillator, “a clear patient safety issue,” by this Friday.
In his May 16 directive to Jackson, however, the mayor set tighter deadlines, requiring a temporary replacement defibrillator by Tuesday, May 20. He also ordered replacement of a “clearly defective” gurney by Tuesday and told Jackson to give emergency medical technicians access to supplies by Monday. EMT certificates had to be on file by May 21 or they would be dropped from the program.
Progress has already been made, according to an email to Wilder from Rick Paris, Grant County EMS Council chair.
“… It is my knowledgeable opinion that the ambulance is in a useable state and addresses most of the equipment concerns stated in the State's letter,” Paris wrote after a meeting on Sunday at the Coulee Dam fire station.
Wilder said Okanogan County dispatch records gave him concerns about response times and protocols.
“These issues and matters alone give me great pause and concern,” he wrote in the memo to Jackson, “however, when they are combined with past and recent EMT claims of harassment and retaliation, they reach the need for immediate action and resolution. It is apparent that our community is at serious risk …”
Wilder’s “harassment” reference was to a 2012 investigation instigated by an anonymous EMT’s claims of a hostile work environment. The investigation centered around then ambulance Lieutenant Ben Alling. The investigation conducted by the town’s insurance company resulted in a finding by then-Mayor Quincy Snow that there was no cause for action, Wilder said.
Alling was not available for comment.
A new formal complaint against the town has been filed alleging concerted retaliation against the EMT who filed the earlier complaint. That investigation started a couple weeks ago, Wilder said.
Wilder said Tuesday he had removed EMT Deborah Jimenez from her position as ambulance director after she told him she would not respond to an ambulance call to which the complaining EMT was also responding, and that five other EMTs in the department would take the same stance.
Wilder said that stance is unprofessional and places citizens at risk. He said he was prepared to rebuild the service with all new personnel if necessary, but he doesn’t believe it will come to that.