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A third-party investigation is underway in a California city after two mask-wearing fire department paramedics allegedly refused to enter a rehab facility to render assistance to a man suffering cardiac arrest. About an hour later, the patient was tragically pronounced dead at a local hospital after being transported there.
An officer responding to the scene in Rialto, California, said on his bodycam, in footage obtained by Fox 11 Los Angeles through a freedom of information request, that the medics wouldn’t come inside because of some COVID-19-related rule, and that the patient, who reportedly wasn’t breathing pursuant to the 911 call, needed to be brought out to them.
“They’re not gonna come in; they’re saying it’s a state law that they can’t come in,” the officer can be heard telling staff members.
Nurses at the Rialto Post Acute Care Center were performing CPR on the 56-year-old man, and with an assist by the quick-acting officer, they managed to push the bed — which had no wheels — outside, where first responders began rendering treatment.
“Despite being in their line of sight, fire personnel still insisted on [redacted] being brought to them outside before they began life saving efforts and made no effort to assist me in getting [redacted] outside,” the officer reportedly wrote in his police report, according to Fox News.
“I was then told (since) the implementation of said law, Rialto Fire Personnel had not received any direction on how to proceed from their command,” the officer, who the media identified as Ralph Ballew, reportedly added.
The paramedics have been put on leave while the investigation proceeds.
It’s yet to be determined what law or regulation to which the medics were specifically referring in the mid-November incident that is now making headlines after officials announced they were launching an independent probe.
Fox 11 noted this guidance from last year:
An April 2020 memo from the San Bernardino County Fire Chief’s Association said:
“Personnel responding to long-term care facilities …. Should consider the following to minimize any potential risk for exposure:
All dispatch centers will be requesting the facilities to move patients to the door or outside the location…”
But the memo also includes that:
“If [the] patient cannot be transferred to exit for or outside prior to arrival, one member of Fire/EMS personnel should initially interact with the patient” and goes on to explain the type of Personal Protective Gear (PPE) that is advisable.”
The San Bernardino County chapter of the Emergency Medical Services Authority released the following statement that seems, however, more definitive:
“Upon acceptance of a call assignment, California paramedics cannot refuse service (i.e., assessment, treatment, transport) unless directed by law enforcement or if the scene is unsafe. Local protocols may change instructions for the conditions to assess, treat, and/or transport.”
“In a supplemental report taken four days after the incident, a registered nurse supervisor at the facility told police she ‘did not know of any state law refusing paramedics entrance into the facility,” the Orange County Register reported. “‘The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) lifted bans on visitors and even when bans were in place,’ the supplemental report reads, ‘Fire Responders and essential workers were allowed entrance to the facility.'”
Depending upon the facts and circumstances, the liability for Rialto could be enormous, which is understandably likely to provide little solace to the man’s mourning family.
Acting Rialto fire Chief Brian Park described the bodycam footage as “troubling,” and thanked the nurses and the officer for their “heroic actions” in the incident.
“The investigation will focus on the conduct of the responding Fire Department personnel, and the reasons those personnel did not enter the acute care facility immediately,” Rialto Mayor Deborah Robertson explained.
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