Fourth suit filed against the City of Bellingham, Wash. for medical training on deceased patient
The incident resulted in a scathing investigation, which revealed the fire department had been practicing medical techniques on dead bodies for at least 25 years
Read additional commentary and analysis of this incident from David Givot, lawyer and EMS1 advisory board member.
By Mike Carter
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — A fourth claim has been filed against the City of Bellingham, Wash., for a 2018 incident in which the body of a man who died in the back of a paramedic unit while on the way to the hospital was used by fire-department personnel for medical training.
The city already has paid $75,000 each to two adult children of Bradley Ginn Sr. and is facing a $15 million claim filed by Ginn’s widow, Jai Ginn, according to the city attorney’s office. Now, his brother, Robert Fox, who lives in California, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city alleging “tortuous interference with a corpse” after 11 Bellingham Fire Department employees, including an account manager and an office secretary, practiced inserting endotracheal tubes into the body 15 times after placing Ginn’s corpse in a body bag on the floor of a firehouse.
The incident, which occurred on July 31, 2018, resulted in a scathing investigation conducted by Seattle attorney Sarah Hale, which revealed the fire department had been practicing medical techniques on dead bodies for at least 25 years. The incident resulted in the resignation of Emergency Medical Services Capt. Scott Farlow and Bellingham Fire Department Medical Services Director Mannix McDonnell, according to The Bellingham Herald and the city attorney’s office. Nine other fire-department employees were disciplined.
Bradley Ginn Sr. was a resident at a nursing home when he began having breathing problems and Bellingham paramedics were called. According to the lawsuit and a 24-page investigative report authored by Hale, Ginn stopped breathing on the way to the hospital and was determined to have died.
Ginn had a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) order, and the hospital declined to take the body. According to the report, paramedics then contacted the medical examiner, who told them to take the body to the fire station and call a funeral home.
Initially, the plan was to place the body in an auxiliary ambulance at the fire station, but that unit was out and the equipment bay was empty. According to the investigation, the body was placed on the concrete floor of the empty equipment bay in a white body bag that “was partially unzipped to expose Mr. Ginn Sr.’s torso and face for any and all bypasses to witness.”
“Employees of the Bellingham Fire Department — including firefighters, paramedics and even office personnel — then proceeded to take turns intubating Mr. Ginn Sr. as he lay on the ground of the apparatus bay,” according to the lawsuit.
In all, the procedure was performed 15 times. “These intubations served no medical purpose and were in direct contradiction to Mr. Ginn Sr.’s order then no invasive procedures, like intubation, be performed,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit points out that no family member was ever contacted for consent. According to news reports at the time, the family was not notified until two months later, when the incident was reported in the news.
The investigation determined that the Bellingham Fire Department had used corpses for intubation-training purposes dating back decades, usually accident victims or individuals who had died recently. They referred to the practice as a “tube check” and were used as a “mechanism for the paramedic to practice their intubation skills” and to maintain certification. Usually, such incidents would involve one or two practice “tube checks” after the patient had died.
While the investigation found that for the most part the “tone and atmosphere of the group were professional,” the group included an account assistant and an office assistant who had no reason to be involved. Those two individuals, the investigation found, exchanged a “high-five” after completing their turns intubating the body.
One of them then went into the kitchen and got a cupcake — but only after washing her hands, according to the document.
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