- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

The D.C. fire department has cleared two paramedics of wrongdoing in the April 26 death of a man in their care, despite admitted policy violations during and after the incident and lingering questions from family members.
Two paramedics, assigned to Rapid Response Unit 12, who made two trips to 15 V St. NE, misdiagnosed ODell Sellers chest and abdominal pains as acid reflux, or severe heartburn, according to medical reports obtained by The Washington Times.
Firefighters who had arrived first on the scene were concerned because Mr. Sellers, 49, asked to be transported to the hospital.
The paramedics, Thomas Yowell and Geoffrey Browning, arrived a few minutes later, around 3:48 a.m. According to neighbors and fire department sources, the medics told Mr. Sellers he didnt need to go to the hospital and advised him to wait for a doctors appointment later that day.
Mr. Browning defended his and his partners handling of the case: "We did a full assessment, everything were supposed to do. We cant make him go. No one feels worse about it than us. I ran him [to the hospital] the second time when he was in [cardiac] arrest. I didnt feel too good about it."
He said neighbors comments that they told Mr. Sellers he did not need transport were "totally false because they werent even in there with us."
Mr. Yowell declined to comment. "We cant say nothing. … Thats the policy of the department"
Three hours after Mr. Yowell and Mr. Browning left, medics were called back. They found Mr. Sellers dead.
"I just feel in my heart that if they had took my brother at 4 in the morning, he would still be here," said Barbara Sellers, a D.C. resident. "He would still be here if they didnt make the decision something wasnt wrong with him."
According to the medics, Mr. Sellers refused transport to the Washington Hospital Center against their advice.
Neighbors, however, insist the dead man wanted to go to the hospital.
"They just said they wasnt going to take him," said Leroy Brown, who lives downstairs from Mr. Sellers apartment. "He wanted to go. He never would have asked me to call if he didnt want to go."
The two medics had treated Mr. Sellers a few days before the fatal incident, and he had been discharged from a hospital with medicine for heartburn.
Some medical experts in the area questioned the paramedics actions.
"You never abandon a patient," said Dr. Keith Holtermann, assistant dean for health science at George Washington Universitys School of Medicine and Health Science. "To just leave a patient, thats abandonment."
Mr. Brown, who let the medics in the apartment, said, "They looked like they were impatient, but the man was sick. They said, 'Oh, him again."
Copies of the patient care reports by the paramedics show they failed to get Mr. Sellers signature on a waiver, or get a witness to attest to his refusal. Both are violations of written protocols.
The medics "should note that the person refused to sign," said Sherry Adams, executive director of the D.C. Office of Emergency Health and Medical Services, which regulates EMS services. "If they can get names of witnesses or get someone to sign as a witness, theyre encouraged to do that," she said.
One medic tore up the original medical report — a legal document — and threw it in a trash can, and the other one wrote a new report after Mr. Sellers died.
Firefighters concerned about the medics behavior notified supervisors about the destroyed report, and it was recovered. The Times obtained copies of both medical care reports —151 Forms.
Tearing up a medical report is "a cardinal sin, a no-no," said one department medic.
"Generally, if there is an error in documentation… they will put a line through that and make a correction at that time," Miss Adams said.
Mr. Yowell wrote the first report, which was nearly illegible. Mr. Browning wrote the second report, which was written neatly and had more information.
Department spokeswoman Denise Reed said supervisors who looked at the incident "felt the personnel acted properly," despite the violations of documentation policies.
She said Mr. Browning wrote the new report because Mr. Yowell is known for his poor handwriting and the first report was hard to read. The department ordered Mr. Yowell to "develop more professional penmanship" through a course at the D.C. Office of Personnel. He must comply within 60 days and is prohibited from filling out forms until he does so.
A top emergency room official, Dr. Mark Smith of the Washington Hospital Center, complained about the incident with the fire department, sparking an internal investigation, two department sources said.
The internal probe yielded photographs of the destroyed medical report. But top EMS officials ended the probe and ignored a supervisors recommendation for termination or suspension, the sources said.
Dr. Smith declined to comment in May because of patient confidentiality and has not returned repeated messages over the past several weeks.
Mr. Sellers loved ones still have questions.
"The service he received is just foul," said Angela Clay, Mr. Sellers only daughter, who lives in North Carolina. "Why didnt they take him? What reason did they have? Why did they deny taking him?"
"I want to know what happened. Im not going to rest until I find out."

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