Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nationís capital

by the editor of The Common Denominator

PARAMEDICS PROTEST: A new "pilot program" for staffing D.C. ambulances, prepared to be rolled out by Fire Chief Adrian Thompson on Aug. 12, prompted 30 paramedics and emergency medical technicians to meet with the cityís top health officials Aug. 8 in an effort to block the programís implementation.

Emergency medical workers complained to James A. Buford, director of the D.C. Department of Health, and Dr. Michael Richardson, the departmentís senior deputy director of medical affairs, that the new staffing plan will jeopardize quality of care by forcing lesser-trained workers to assume additional patient care responsibilities for which they have been inadequately trained.

The workers and their union, American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721, also have warned health officials that implementing the new staffing plan threatens to increase the D.C. governmentís liability risks by violating the Districtís Pre-hospital State Medical Protocols. They further charge that the D.C. government could be committing fraud if patients are billed for "advanced life support" transport to hospitals by medic units that are improperly staffed.

Health officials authorized the pilot program as part of Thompsonís effort to resolve longstanding problems with his departmentís slow ambulance response times. While the department has reportedly hired nearly 40 new paramedics and EMTs during the past 18 months, the cityís ambulances remain sorely understaffed.

"Paramedics are running from D.C. Fire and EMS," according to paramedic Jasper W. Sterling, a 12-year veteran. "How many have to leave before someone questions why?"

Sterling contends that the city will continue to lack the resources to adequately respond to rescue calls "until more [ambulance] units are put in service, or more emergency rooms are opened, or the numbers of calls decrease." During the past three months, since D.C. Generalís emergency room was converted to an urgent care center, the amount of time that ambulances remain "out of service" Ė unable to respond to immediate rescue calls Ė has reportedly increased dramatically due to backups at ERs. A fire department spokesman was unable to immediately provide ambulance data before press time.

In the meantime, Sterling and his co-workers say that lowering the quality of care offered by city ambulances is a poor way to expedite response to rescue calls.

"If the goal was to just get there fast, cab drivers could be given lights and sirens," Sterling said.

REST IN PEACE: More than 200 friends and family members gathered Aug. 8 at Miner Elementary School for a memorial service for education activist Larry Gray, who died July 28 after a long illness. Gray, who served as legislative director for the D.C. Congress of Parents and Teachers and was also a Ward 6 member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, was married to The Common Denominatorís political columnist, Diana Winthrop. Among those offering eulogies at the service were Ward 6 Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose and D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator