Timeline shows alleged mishandling of Kan. EMS crisis

Sedgwick County's issue with "dangerously slow" response times dates back to 2018, newspaper investigation shows


This is part of a series from The Wichita Eagle about what it calls "a broken emergency medical system that's growing worse by the day." Check out additional coverage of this ongoing story: 

Chance Swaim
The Wichita Eagle

WICHITA, Kan. — A Wichita Eagle series — "Unresponsive" — found Sedgwick County EMS response times have gotten dangerously slow as paramedics flee the department in revolt against EMS Director Dr. John Gallagher, causing ambulance shortages for the entire county.

Despite years of warnings, county leaders failed to resolve the conflict, The Eagle found. Sedgwick County EMS employees say anything short of Gallagher's removal would make the crisis worse.

County Commissioner Jim Howell wrote in an email to Wichita's deputy city manager,
County Commissioner Jim Howell wrote in an email to Wichita's deputy city manager, "EMS is a 'house on fire' not a witch hunt." (Photo/Sedgwick County Government)

Sedgwick County Commissioners expect to be briefed Wednesday on the findings of an audit by a private law firm into Gallagher's leadership. Since Gallagher was promoted from medical director to EMS service director, more than a third of his original workforce has left the department.

Here's a detailed timeline showing how the Sedgwick County EMS crisis has unfolded:

Sept. 17, 2018 — Sedgwick County EMS Director Scott Hadley retires after leading the department for 10 years. He told The Eagle he asked county leaders not to promote Gallagher to EMS service director.

The county names Dennis Mauk, a 40-year veteran nearing retirement, interim director.

At the time, Sedgwick County was embroiled in controversy. The County Commission moved to oust County Counselor Eric Yost and County Manager Michael Scholes, leading to an FBI investigation into possible obstruction of justice by commissioners.

Deputy County Manager Tom Stolz stepped into the interim county manager position in December 2018.

Feb. 5, 2019 — Medical Director Dr. John Gallagher sends a letter to Sedgwick County Commissioners supporting Tom Stolz as the new hire for Sedgwick County Manager.

Feb. 6, 2019 — Sedgwick County commissioners name Stolz county manager without a search or interview process.

May 28, 2019 — Sedgwick County paramedics and EMTs send a letter to county commissioners asking for an open and competitive search for a new EMS director. The letter warned against merging EMS and the Office of the Medical Director, saying Gallagher was not fit to lead the department. It was signed by more than 100 EMS employees.

Following the letter, Sedgwick County EMS workers met multiple times with Stolz and Deputy County Manager Rusty Leeds. They asked for an open search to fill the director position and voice reservations about Gallagher.

June 17, 2019 — Phillip Brownlee, executive director of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County, sends a letter to Sedgwick County commissioners lobbying for a physician-led EMS model that would place Gallagher in charge of EMS.

June 19, 2019 — Gallagher, medical director at the time, orders seven first responders not to transport a gunshot patient to a hospital a mile away.

The man had a pulse and was breathing, but Gallagher determined he was "unsalvageable."

The patient was left alive in his apartment for 5 hours with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head before he was finally taken to hospice care, where he died 10 1/2 hours after the shooting.

June 20, 2019 — Leeds and Stolz email Sedgwick County commissioners and assure them the suicide call was handled correctly but said in the future, patients in similar circumstances should be transported. In emails, Leeds and Stolz refer to the patient, who was breathing, had a pulse and at times appeared to be suffering, as "the body."

July 17, 2019 — Brownlee sends a letter from the Medical Society to county commissioners attempting to clear Gallagher of any wrongdoing in the suicide call.

Aug. 20, 2019 — Stolz promotes Gallagher to EMS Director at a county staff meeting, which does not include a vote by the commission or comments from the public. The only commissioner with any concerns is Jim Howell, who said he wanted an open search.

Stolz said the idea to merge departments would "be met with some trepidation from EMS." Leeds said, "we have definitely heard and understood the challenges, the concerns, the needs and the wants of staff at EMS." But concerns about Gallagher's leadership outlined by EMS employees in their letters and meetings with county management were not addressed during the public meeting.

Brownlee is quoted in a Sedgwick County news release announcing the change.

"The high quality EMS care that we have now will only improve with this integration," Brownlee said.

Dec. 4, 2019 — Commissioner Howell misses his first regular commission meeting in 6 years due to a planned vacation. The commission unanimously passes a 5-year contract with Gallagher worth $1.1 million, with two automatic 2-year renewals.

The contract was on the consent agenda, where it passed without public comment or debate.

Commissioners were unaware that the Kansas Board of EMS had opened its own investigation into the June 2019 suicide call.

2020 — The COVID-19 pandemic strikes, disrupting government services across the globe and in Sedgwick County.

Frontline EMS workers continue working through the pandemic, receiving a $400 bonus spread over two pay periods for being critical workers.

Dec. 5, 2020 — Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell raises concerns about an ambulance shortage in Sedgwick County, citing an email he received from an EMS worker whom Howell kept anonymous. In emails to Stolz, Commission Chairman Pete Meitzner and County Counselor Mike Pepoon, Howell seeks an audit of Sedgwick County EMS.

Howell's request was denied.

Stolz wrote in an email: "All public safety entities are struggling. If we 'audit' EMS then we should do the same for Sheriff, PD, Fire, COMCARE, Corrections."

Meitzner wrote in an email: "I, personally, do not manage or govern, by one anonymous email."

Feb. 4, 2021 — The Kansas Board of EMS issues a summary proceeding order against seven first responders who followed Gallagher's orders on the 2019 suicide case. The order also asks the Kansas Board of Healing Arts to investigate Gallagher for any potential violations.

Feb. 26, 2021 — Howell asks Stolz when Gallagher's contract expires. Stolz calls Howell's interest in the matter "a witch hunt." After Howell questioned a prolonged EMS response time, Stolz told Howell, "Your snitches need to get their facts straight."

Feb. 27, 2021 — "EMS is a 'house on fire' not a witch hunt," Howell writes to Stolz. "I am not ending the witch hunt."

Stolz writes back to Howell, saying "the majority supports this team & Dr. Gallagher. ... You voted against my hire 2 years ago and I understand you want me gone because I am not succumbing to rumor and innuendo regarding a department head. That is fine. ... I am not replying to anymore emails from you regarding EMS."

March 30, 2021 — Details of Gallagher's handling of the suicide call become public for the first time in a Wichita Eagle report.

Sedgwick County EMS employees begin contacting commissioners and news organizations with concerns about Gallagher's leadership.

April 21, 2021 — Howell arranges a meeting between Stolz, Leeds and Sedgwick County EMS employees for April 26 and April 28.

April 24, 2021 — Leeds announces in an email to the entire EMS department that paramedics have been designated as "critical employees," at Gallagher's request, and will receive a 5% pay raise for 90 days. EMTs do not receive a pay raise.

April 26 and April 28, 2021 — More than 120 past and present Sedgwick County EMS employees attend two meetings with Stolz and Leeds.

The EMS workers called for Gallagher and his deputies — Dr. Carolina Pereira and Paul Misasi — to be fired immediately.

May 12, 2021 — Stolz asks EMS workers who had been vocal during the two meetings to meet privately with Gallagher and Misasi, deputy director of EMS operations, and a mediator to "work their way through the issues," according to an email.

"Arbitration would insinuate that the relationship between Dr. Gallagher, Mr. Misasi and the employees of Sedgwick County EMS is repairable; which it is not," EMS Capt. Brendan McGreevy replied.

"As we stated, in both meetings held on the 26th and 28th of April, the employees of Sedgwick County EMS gave testimony and clearly stated a vote of no confidence in the clinical, operational, and administrative abilities of Dr. Gallagher, Dr. Pereira, and Mr. Misasi to lead the organization.

"A lack of leadership and the creation of a toxic, volatile, and unsafe work environment prevent the consensus of our colleagues the ability to negotiate any terms except the immediate termination or resignation of Dr. Gallagher, Dr. Pereira, and Mr. Misasi," McGreevy wrote.

May 14, 2021 — Sedgwick County hires a private law firm — Hite, Fanning & Honeyman — to investigate complaints of poor leadership and dangerous protocols within Sedgwick County EMS. The audit is ordered through the county counselor's office.

June 7, 2021 — Hite, Fanning & Honeyman begin interviewing EMS employees as part of its investigation.

July 2, 2021 — Critical pay for EMS paramedics is increased to 10% until the end of August.

July 6, 2021 — Employee interviews as part of the audit are completed.

July 7, 2021 — Pereira, Sedgwick County EMS deputy medical director, gives 90 days notice that she will resign from her position.

According to an email obtained by The Eagle, Pereira told Stolz she was "scared to do her job" and needed to leave, citing a work environment where EMS employees "are allowed to have secret meetings with commissioner(s) and are able to send things to the media or place on social media with no discussion, communication, or ramification."

The law firm's findings have not been made public.

County Commissioners told The Eagle they're waiting for those findings before making any decisions about EMS leadership and structure.

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(c)2021 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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