- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

D.C. government officials are aware of shortcomings in oversight of Emergency Medical Services and agree some issues — including a mayoral commission that has not met in four years — need to be addressed.

“There’s agreement that they need to get this reinvigorated and do it very quickly,” said Vince Morris, a spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

However, he said the outgoing mayor is sensitive to a new administration with its own priorities that will take office in January.

Mr. Morris would not defend the committee’s failure to meet in four years, first reported Friday by The Washington Times, but said some of the panel’s responsibilities had been shifted to different areas of city government.

The 28-member advisory committee included officials from city agencies and hospital trauma centers as well as neighborhood representatives. The panel advised Mr. Williams and other city leaders about standards and regulations for emergency medical services, public information programs, data-collection systems and coordination of EMS resources.

“Some of this work is still going forward,” said Mr. Morris, who attributed the committee’s inactivity over four years to disagreements about membership.

The advisory panel’s failure to meet was one of several oversight issues that emerged during a Sept. 7 session of a task force charged with recommending improvements to the EMS system.

The Times reported Friday that disclosure of the extent of EMS oversight deficiencies came in a presentation by Beverly Pritchett, senior deputy director of the D.C. Department of Health’s Emergency Health and Medical Services Administration.

Her division is responsible for administering certification exams to emergency medical technicians and paramedics and for inspecting city ambulances for sanitary conditions and medical readiness.

Among the EMS deficiencies cited was that the Department of Health does not inspect the life-saving equipment carried on fire engines, which in most cases are the first to respond to critical medical calls.

There also is no mechanism for certifying doctors who advise field medics via telephone during emergencies.

Certification exams for emergency medical technicians and paramedics are not routinely updated.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, created the EMS task force after an inspector general’s report in July found multiple errors in the handling of the emergency call for journalist David E. Rosenbaum.

Mr. Rosenbaum, a retired reporter and editor for the New York Times, was attacked and beaten by robbers Jan. 6 on a sidewalk near his home in Northwest and died two days later from his injuries.

Mr. Mendelson is chairman of the council’s Judiciary Committee, which oversees the budget and operations of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

Council member Adrian M. Fenty, all but certain to win the mayor’s office in November after his victory Tuesday in the Democratic primary, has said repeatedly that he would place EMS and fire-fighting functions in separate departments.

Asked during a radio interview Friday about the report on the EMS task force in The Times, Mr. Fenty, of Ward 4, dismissed critics who say his plan would result in the closing of fire stations.

“That’s a way to keep the status quo, and the status quo isn’t working,” Mr. Fenty said. “There’s no way in the world that will result in cuts to the fire department.”

Mr. Fenty said the mixups in the response to the fatal attack on Mr. Rosenbaum and in other incidents were “inexcusable.”

Ed Reiskin, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said the relationship between the health and fire departments has improved.

“I think it is fair to say it has not been good in the past,” he said. “I think the role of the Department of Health with regard to the fire department has not been clear.”

Mr. Reiskin said he was “very pleased” with the leadership within the Health Department of Ms. Pritchett, who has been on the job since April.

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