- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2015

Eight years after a city task force issued recommendations to improve emergency medical services in the District, an auditor’s report has found that less than half of the recommendations are being carried out.

D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson issued a report Thursday that found of the 36 recommendations made by the Rosenbaum Task Force — chief among them to have all first responders cross-trained with basic firefighting and medical skills — only 11 have been fully implemented.

The task force was convened in 2007 to recommend fixes for the city’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department after it was found that a neglectful, botched emergency response contributed to the 2006 death of New York Times journalist David Rosenbaum, who had suffered a head wound after being beaten and robbed.

Over the last few years, the department has again come under scrutiny over the quality of care it provides as well as its ability to respond to emergencies following a series of high-profile failed responses.

The report does not draw any correlation between service failures — such as the 2014 death of D.C. resident Medric Mills after firefighters refused to aid him when he collapsed from a heart attack across the street from a fire house — and the lack of implementation of the recommendations.

But Ms. Patterson, a former D.C. Council member, indicated there could be some relation and said she believes it is important for the city to continue to move forward with addressing the recommendations — even if after the passage of time the department decides to do so in a different manner than was laid out in 2007.

“I do think that our review showed some gaps in training and gaps in meeting current requirements for training,” she said. “It may be that in an indirect way some of those issues have contributed to some of the incidents.”

Fire Chief Gregory Dean assumed leadership of the department in May. In a response to the audit report, he said he is working to carry out the task force recommendations.

The chief said he has addressed at least one of the recommendations that was fulfilled and later rescinded by recreating the post of Assistant Fire Chief for Emergency Medical Services and appointing Edward R. Mills, who held the role of interim fire chief before Chief Dean’s arrival, to the position.

It was unclear how Chief Dean would respond to others, such as the Rosenbaum Task Force’s No. 1 recommendation: “All operational employees shall be cross-trained at basic levels of EMS, fire prevention, fire suppression, hazardous materials and technical rescue.”

Under the previous leadership of Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, the department abandoned the cross-training stipulation and hired 23 single-role paramedics in an effort to beef up staffing.

“Chief Dean is examining which hiring strategies will work best to address the department’s staffing needs going forward,” said FEMS spokesman Tim Wilson, noting that the chief has not taken a position on whether new hires should be cross-trained or single-role.

The auditor’s report notes that of the 23 employees hired as single-role EMS providers in 2013, only six had completed dual-role training. The department indicated that others began dual-role training in April.

Overall, the report notes that 15 recommendations were not implemented, four were implemented and later rescinded, and six were partially completed.

The report also notes that the department is not conducting physical agility testing for all employees and that a protocol adopted under a Patient Bill of Rights in 2011, which requires that department personnel to always provide emergency transport when requested, is in direct contradiction to one of the task force recommendations. The task force sought to establish alternative means for people to be transported to hospitals or clinics for non-emergency calls.

Despite the progress in implementing the recommendations, Ms. Patterson said she doesn’t believe that city leaders have ever disagreed with the goals of the task force — just that they have had different takes on how to meet those goals.

“With a new administration and new leadership of the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, the District of Columbia has a new opportunity to address the commitments made in 2007,” she wrote in the report’s conclusion.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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