- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2010

D.C. fire officials are investigating the death of a Southeast Washington child who died hours after a paramedic responding to a 911 call complaining that the child was having trouble breathing told the mother to run a hot shower to clear the congestion from the child’s lungs.

The incident occurred just before 5 a.m. on Feb. 10, when emergency medical personnel responded to the 800 block of Southern Avenue Southeast to a report of a child with trouble breathing.

“There was no transport,” fire officials said in a press release issued Wednesday.

Officials said that at about 1:45 p.m. on Feb. 10, another 911 call was received from the same address for a child with abnormal breathing, and a medic unit was dispatched. The child was transported to an area hospital after that call and later died.

Sources close to the investigation told The Washington Times that the initial call was handled by a female paramedic who had served as a “preceptor,” or a field supervisor. The medic reportedly instructed the child’s family to run a hot shower and let the steam get into the child’s lungs.

The sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the paramedic did not fill out any paperwork on the medical call, including obtaining a signature from the child’s parents saying they did not want the child transported to the hospital.

The Times began making inquiries into the response on Feb. 24 - two weeks after the medical call occurred - but D.C. fire officials made no response to the questions until finally issuing a press release on Wednesday.

The release contained no answers to questions posed to the agency about whether the paramedic involved in the call had filled out the proper paperwork or obtained the necessary permission not to transport the child.

The fire department said officials are performing a “quality review process” and that “several medical care providers have been placed in a non-patient-contact status until a review is completed.”

WJLA-TV (Channel 7) identified the child as 2-year-old Stephanie Stephens and said she was buried on Tuesday.

The incident is the latest for the long-troubled emergency medical services division, whose assistant chief and immediate past medical director are the subjects of ongoing litigation in separate cases involving quality-of-care issues.

A six-month investigation by The Times in April found that scores of the city’s paramedics failed to meet the minimum national standard on written exams testing their medical knowledge and that they had mishandled basic lifesaving procedures during recent videotaped assessments, according to interviews, videos and documents.

The investigation came after a D.C. paramedic in December 2008 responded to an incident in Northeast involving Edward L. Givens. Family members say that hours before Mr. Givens died, a paramedic responding to a medical call at his house told Mr. Givens he was likely suffering from acid reflux. The family has filed a $17 million lawsuit against the city in connection with that case.

Last month’s incident — and the apparent failures to assess the patient and document the call — are reminiscent of the botched January 2006 response that led to the death of journalist David. E. Rosenbaum. Mr. Rosenbaum, 63, was beaten and robbed in his Northwest neighborhood and died two days later.

An investigation found that a neglectful, botched emergency response had contributed to Mr. Rosenbaum’s death after emergency medical personnel mistakenly presumed he was drunk.

The Rosenbaum family filed a $20 million civil lawsuit in November 2006 against the District and Howard University Hospital, charging that the emergency response and poor care by hospital workers contributed to Mr. Rosenbaum’s death.

But in February 2008, Rosenbaum family members said they were satisfied with the District’s progress in reforming its emergency medical services and would drop the lawsuit against the city. The family members and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty had agreed to a settlement in which the lawsuit would be dropped in exchange for the creation of a task force to examine ways to improve the city’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services department.

The Rosenbaums settled their lawsuit against Howard University Hospital last year. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

• Matthew Cella can be reached at mcella@washingtontimes.com.

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