- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

Dozens of employees of the District’s 911 communications center crowded a D.C. Council chamber yesterday to hear co-workers testify about internal problems and to call for the agency director’s removal.

The Washington Times has reported about five incidents in which dispatchers have provided rescue crews with incomplete or incorrect information in recent weeks.

While the hearing was under way, a 911 dispatcher again sent an ambulance to the wrong address. According to fire department records, a dispatcher sent an emergency crew to 725 Varnum Street NW at 10:06 a.m. for reports of a stroke victim.

At 10:17 a.m., a dispatcher changed the address to 725 Buchanan Street NE, about two miles away, at the Carroll Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The first responders arrived about 33 minutes after the initial call was dispatched.

The patient’s condition could not be determined. D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said officials are investigating the incident.

E. Michael Latessa, director of the Office of Unified Communications, acknowledged some troubles within his agency at a Judiciary Committee oversight hearing yesterday.

“Because we are an agency in transition, there are many things that probably did not go off as well as they should have,” Mr. Latessa said. “But these things were not done with intent or malice.”

Mr. Latessa said the center’s accuracy rate is 99.9 percent since Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year.

His testimony followed that of eight call-takers and dispatchers who said problems such as the lack of written policies and procedures and abusive treatment of employees have led to mistakes.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the committee, asked Mr. Latessa to address whether the statistical improvements he cited had come at the cost of a hostile work environment.

“We’re trying to be very sensitive to the needs of individuals as individuals,” Mr. Latessa responded.

Mr. Mendelson said, “I hear you saying you’re trying to be sensitive, but I have to say you’re blowing it.”

The exchange came shortly after Valerie Johnson, 38, testified she was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2003 but was denied leave without pay for chemotherapy treatments, after she had exhausted her sick leave.

Miss Johnson also said the call center has filthy carpets, stifling temperatures and numerous broken desks and chairs.

“I had [a call in which] somebody killed his girlfriend and shot himself in the head,” she said. “This isn’t writing parking tickets. This job is serious.”

Two supervisors testified in defense of Mr. Latessa, one saying that employees were behaving like “children refusing to take their medicine.”

Council member David Catania, at-large independent, said the truth is probably “somewhere in between” but asked Mr. Latessa to pledge to weekly meetings with labor representatives.

“I am always conscientious when I see so many individuals come from the same organization with the same story,” Mr. Catania said.

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