- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

George Washington University Hospital officials said an internal review has uncovered no wrongdoing by an emergency room doctor who tried to reroute an ambulance after medics told him they were coming from Southeast.

In a two-page statement yesterday, GW Hospital’s chief executive officer Daniel McLean said Dr. Robert Shesser, the hospital’s director of the emergency medicine, “has a track record of putting the interests of patients above all else.”

“As commander of his ship, he knew, better than [Emergency Medical Services] command and control or the paramedics, whether he could care for additional patients without jeopardizing the safety of the patients already in his care,” Mr. McLean said. “He made a tough call — but it was the right call! GW Hospital stands behind him 100 percent.”

The Washington Times first reported Thursday that D.C. paramedics had filed complaints that Dr. Shesser had discouraged an emergency crew from delivering a 97-year-old woman suffering from congestive heart failure to the hospital last Saturday night.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams on Thursday called on Dr. Fernando Daniels III, medical director of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, and city Health Director James A. Buford to investigate the incident.

In his statement yesterday, Mr. McLean does not dispute that emergency medical services officials have the final authority to close a hospital emergency room and does not claim that EMS officials granted Dr. Shesser permission to close GW Hospital’s emergency room.

Sources close to the investigation said EMS supervisors were not notified by hospital officials of their need to close the emergency room until after Dr. Shesser had tried to reroute the ambulance.

Paramedics have filed official complaints against Dr. Shesser, saying he has denied hospital access to patients from Southeast several times, and D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous has accused the doctor of racial bias.

Mr. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, yesterday said it is a mistake for hospital administrators to “wrap their arms” around Dr. Shesser without acknowledging there is a problem. “My view is, let’s put the racism angle aside and deal with the real issue: Isn’t it true that Dr. Shesser violated protocol when he tried to divert the ambulance? The answer is yes,” he said.

Mr. McLean said the review indicated that Dr. Shesser suggested the medics take the woman to Greater Southeast Community Hospital, which was the closest hospital.

“EMS indicated that Greater Southeast Community Hospital was closed. We now know that this was not true,” Mr. McLean said.

Sources close to the District’s investigation said it has yet to be determined which hospitals’ emergency rooms were open or closed Saturday night.

Mr. Chavous said emergency room terms such as “closed” and “patient acuity” are semantics when applied to Greater Southeast — the only hospital east of the Anacostia River.

“When Greater Southeast lost its accreditation two months ago, that has left the EMS folks to decide whether to take Code 1 [emergency] patients to that hospital and some of them are simply not willing to do that,” Mr. Chavous said.

Mr. McLean also said the review discovered that a second call came in from the emergency medical technician saying the ambulance was coming from Southwest, at which point Dr. Shesser advised them to proceed to GW Hospital.

Fire officials would not comment on whether a second call was made, saying it is part of their investigation.

Meanwhile, confusion about the 97-year-old patient’s status persisted yesterday.

At a news conference Thursday, Mr. McLean said the patient was in good condition and ready to be released that day. Yesterday he said the patient is in good condition but did not explain why she remains in the hospital.

Sources with knowledge of the woman’s condition told The Times that her condition was “critical.” And EMS sources said that when the patient arrived at the hospital last Saturday night, doctors asked family members to sign a do-not-resuscitate waiver form.

Denise Barnes contributed to this report.

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