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Cases that shake the public's trust

EMS1.com News

August 3, 2010


EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Cases that shake the public's trust

Editor's note: This article is in response to the story "Former EMT gets out of jail early in Ky." Tammy Brewer, who admitted she was under the influence of methadone when she crashed an ambulance and killed the patient inside in 2008, was recently allowed shock probation after only serving five months of a ten-year sentence. Read the full story and tell us what you think in the member comments below.

The outcome of this story serves as a cautionary tale for both employer and employee.

As emergency workers who are held in the public trust, events like this one can shake that trust.

The public expects us to hold ourselves to a higher standard and be ready to serve competently and professionally when called upon.

As health care professionals, it is incumbent upon us to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of our patients — especially when it is another responder, or even ourselves.

Based on the news reports it appears that the former EMT had been "doctor shopping" and had multiple prescriptions from multiple physicians in her possession at the time of the event.

Whether the behavior was supporting an addiction is not clear, but it is a sign of codependency behavior. Other signs and symptoms include a change in behavior toward family, friends and coworkers; loss of interest in hobbies and other activities; and neglecting responsibilities including children, a job, or school.

Recognize that a person with addiction may very well know that continuing the habit will cause pain and suffering — but will continue to do so anyway because of the physical and psychological effects of addiction.

Will power alone is rarely enough to stop the behavior. It takes literally a community of trusted friends, family and professionals to help a person overcome addiction. However, as a friend, family member or coworker, you can help start the process by identifying it and getting help.

For employers, there are several issues identified here as well. Is there a culture of caring being promoted among the staff? Does the staff have easy access to employee assistance programs? Is there a procedure in place to engage an employee whose behavior suggests a potential problem?

Speaking of reporting — according to news reports, staff had advised management of a potential issue. There was an effort to try to intercede, but it came literally minutes too late.

There are take home messages from this tragedy. I can only hope that in another system, someone can use this information to avoid a repeat of this one.

About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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