Legal claim blames Calif. medics who refused to enter care facility for patient’s death

A $100M wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against the Rialto FD following medics' refusal to enter a care facility to treat a man in cardiac arrest


Joe Nelson
The Orange County Register

RIALTO, Calif. — The daughter of a man who died of cardiac arrest after Rialto paramedics refused to enter a care facility where he was a patient has filed a $100 million wrongful death claim against the Fire Department.

Bridgette Angulo alleges in her claim, filed Jan. 27 with the city, that the paramedics’ failure to immediately enter Rialto Post Acute Care Center on South Riverside Avenue shortly before 8 p.m. on Nov. 17 and treat her father, 56-year-old Joseph Angulo, proved fatal.

The paramedics cited a state COVID-19 protocol as the reason for not entering the facility, telling nursing staff they had to bring Angulo outside.
The paramedics cited a state COVID-19 protocol as the reason for not entering the facility, telling nursing staff they had to bring Angulo outside. (Photo/Rialto Fire Department)

“As a result of the Rialto Fire Department staff and paramedics’ failure to administer the needed medical assistance to claimant’s decedent, decedent died,” according to the claim.

City officials shocked

The incident shocked city officials, who commissioned an independent investigation into the incident, publicly released the recorded video from responding police Cpl. Ralph Ballew’s body-worn camera, and placed the three paramedics who responded to the 911 call and refused to enter the building on paid leave pending the outcome of the probe.

“We’re hopeful that the investigation will wrap up soon,” city spokesman Adan Ortega said.

The police video showed the three paramedics, wearing face coverings, idly standing outside the facility’s entrance doors while nurses inside frantically scurried about and performed CPR on Angulo, who had been a patient at the center since Nov. 5, 2021.

The paramedics cited a state COVID-19 protocol as the reason for not entering the facility, telling nursing staff they had to bring Angulo outside. Despite repeated pleas by frustrated nurses that the paramedics come inside to help, they would not budge.

One facility employee yelled out to the paramedics that they could not move the patient because they were performing CPR on him.

“Fire personnel replied, ‘You are doing the same thing we would have to do if we went in, so hurry up and bring him out so we can help,’ ” according to a report by Ballew, who noted that one of the paramedics said to him that if the nursing staff did not appreciate what they were doing, “they should call their congressman.”

‘Pretty disgusting’

“It was pretty disgusting,” said attorney William D. Shapiro, who is representing Bridgette Angulo in the litigation. “The situation was very disappointing — that one of our local first responders would do this.”

Ballew, now a sergeant, did enter the facility, hurriedly helping nurses navigate Angulo’s wheel-less bed through the hallway as a nurse stayed mounted atop the bed performing chest compressions, desperately trying to resuscitate him.

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

But even when Ballew and nurses finally got Angulo outside, the paramedics delayed treatment even further, insisting that everyone “slow down” while they proceeded to ask questions, including how long Angulo had been in cardiac arrest and whether he had a do-not-resuscitate order.

The paramedics also asked the nurses if they were on a shift change, which seemed to immediately upset all staffers, who yelled out “No!” in unison, according to Ballew’s report.

Paramedics finally loaded Angulo into an ambulance and took him to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, where he was pronounced dead at 8:38 p.m.

May have been misinformed

Ortega said the paramedics may have been misinformed and not actually referring to a state COVID-19 protocol, but instead a county fire chief’s directive from more than a year ago, when COVID-19 was at its peak, encouraging all first responders to minimize contact with people whenever possible.

“From what I understand, if there was an acute care situation, you still had to go in” to health care facilities, Ortega said.

Ballew said in his report that Rialto Fire Department personnel told him they had not received any direction on how to proceed in such situations “from their command.”

In a follow-up report by police dated Nov. 21, 2021, nursing staff at the acute care center seemed bewildered by the paramedics’ refusal to enter the facility. They said other Rialto Fire Department paramedics had responded to calls there throughout the pandemic and had entered the facility wearing gowns and other personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Shapiro said the paramedics’ refusal to enter the center delayed Angulo’s advanced life support treatment by 30 to 45 minutes, and that by the time Angulo arrived at Arrowhead, he was already dead.

“I trust that the firefighters were vaccinated, but even if they weren’t, the issue is that we have protocols for firefighters to go into facilities. They have suits and things they’re equipped with for emergencies,” Shapiro said.

The city would not disclose the names of the paramedics.

“Given that the investigation is being independently conducted, we cannot say anything before its completion in order to avoid in any way influencing the process or its outcome,” Ortega said in an email on Thursday, March 31.

City Manager Marcus Fuller said the matter is subject to potential litigation and is being reviewed by the City Attorney’s Office.

Shapiro said he’s deeming the claim denied, and plans to file a lawsuit sometime in April. He said the $100 million demand attached to the claim was merely to protect his client’s best interests, and that a jury ultimately will decide what the proper compensation should be.

Fire Chief Brian Park did not respond to requests for comment, but in a statement in December 2021, he called the police video “troubling.”

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

©2022 MediaNews Group, Inc. Visit ocregister.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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