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Probe launched after Calif. medics refused to enter facility to administer care

The Rialto Fire Department crew members “insisted the patient had to be brought outside the facility before they could provide any sort of treatment,” police say


The Rialto Fire Department employees who refused to go into the care facility are under investigation and have been placed on leave.

Photo/Rialto Fire Department

Brian Whitehead
San Bernardino County Sun, Calif.

RIALTO, Calif. — An independent investigation into the actions of Rialto Fire paramedics who refused to enter a local care facility last month as a man suffered cardiac arrest has been launched, city officials announced Wednesday.

The paramedics under investigation have been placed on leave, acting fire Chief Brian Park said in a statement.

According to a police report of the Nov. 17 incident, paramedics “insisted the patient had to be brought outside the facility before they could provide any sort of treatment,” wrote Officer Ralph Ballew, who was dispatched to Rialto Post Acute Care Center around 7:50 p.m. regarding a patient undergoing cardiac arrest.

“I was informed due to an unspecified COVID-19 law,” Ballew continued, “fire personnel was prohibited from entering the facility and the patient needed to be brought outside.”

Ballew entered the Riverside Avenue facility as a care center attendant administered CPR to the patient, according to the report. While hospital employees pleaded for assistance from fire personnel, Ballew pushed the wheel-less bed toward the entrance, where paramedics were waiting.

“Despite being in their line of sight,” Ballew wrote, “fire personnel still insisted on (the patient) being brought to them outside before they began life saving efforts and made no effort to assist me in getting (the patient) outside.”

Ballew ultimately pushed the bed outside.

After asking questions of facility staffers, paramedics relieved the nurse who was doing chest compressions, Ballew wrote.

The patient was transported to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, where he was pronounced dead at 8:38 p.m., according to the officer’s report.

Ballew wrote in his account that fire personnel told him “some COVID-19 law” prohibited them from entering the facility.

“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,” he added.

Ballew’s actions were captured on his body-worn camera. The city released footage from the incident and has referred the case to an outside agency for investigation.

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 (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.”

Rialto Post Acute Care Center relies on Rialto fire for advanced life support care, the nurse told police, “up to and including medication administration, IV Access, defibrillation and intubation.”

In a statement Wednesday, Park called the police video “troubling.”

“Our Fire Department’s mission,” he said, “is to provide excellence in responding to medical emergencies through ‘compassionate service.’”

Mayor Deborah Robertson said in a statement Wednesday the City Council mourns the patient’s death “especially in the face of such heroism by persons suddenly finding themselves in this urgent situation.

“The investigation will focus on the conduct of the responding Fire Department personnel,” she added, “and the reasons those personnel did not enter the acute care facility immediately.”


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