Fla. county changes policy on deceased patients in public

Manatee County EMS's new policy does not allow for a deceased person to be left exposed in public

Prompted by the recent news story, EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board member Art Hsieh wrote a thought-provoking column that explores "Does your EMS agency have protocols for deceased patients in public?"

By Chris Anderson
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla.  — The image of Julie Ross sitting in a street holding an umbrella over her deceased husband's body after paramedics had left the scene sparked outrage in Manatee County, and on Tuesday officials made procedural changes designed to elicit compassion and prevent such an undignified occurrence from ever happening again.

Prompted by a story in the Herald-Tribune that detailed the aftermath of Ty Ross' unexpected death, Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells and EMS Chief Paul DiCicco met and outlined a four-pronged plan that affords more respect to those who die in a public setting, as well as to family members already dealing with the shock of losing a loved one.

On February 26, while out walking his two dogs near a marina in the Palma Sola area, 78-year-old Ty Ross suffered a heart attack and died instantly. EMS, according to a sheriff's report, arrived on the scene, failed to revive him and declared him dead. The paramedics, per protocol, eventually left the scene in the hands of two Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputies.

Julie Ross, Ty's wife, was at an exercise class when her husband died and had her cell phone turned off. After Carrie Price Whaley — Ross' niece — was notified, she picked Julie Ross up from class, and together they drove to the scene.

A neighbor brought out a chair, some water and an umbrella for Julie Ross, who then sat next to her dead husband, shielding his body from the sun and watching so red ants would not crawl on him. Ty Ross was covered with a white sheet, but his feet were sticking out. Half of his body was in the grass, the other half in the street.

As Julie Ross did this, Price Whaley called Griffith-Cline Funeral Home to transport the body, but the funeral home could not immediately reach the scene. Julie Ross and Price Whaley estimated that she sat next to her husband for 90 minutes before the funeral home finally arrived around noon. They estimated Ty Ross' body was in the street for as much as three hours before it was transported.

The new policy put in place Tuesday does not allow for a deceased person to be left exposed in public.

According to a statement released by DiCicco, EMS units who now arrive on the scene of a deceased person in public will transfer the body into the ambulance and await further instruction from the Sheriff's Office deputy at the scene.

To minimize the time an ambulance is unavailable for an emergency situation elsewhere, the deputy will expedite a solution to transport the body, the statement said.

If a deceased person's identity cannot be ascertained, if next-of-kin cannot be located immediately or if a local funeral home is not able to respond quickly, EMS will take the remains to the Manatee County Medical Examiner's Office.

Similarly, the statement says, if next-of-kin has chosen a funeral home, but the funeral home can't respond quickly, EMS will transport the remains to the funeral home.

EMS also states it will work with municipal law enforcement offices to reach a similar agreement for deaths in public inside the city.

"Even though they said it doesn't happen that often, there is now a policy in place, and I'm grateful they did something and grateful they did it so quickly,'' Julie Ross said. "I really think Sheriff Wells is to be commended. He certainly said we are in it to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

"I'm happy to hear it, I really am.''

Julie Ross said she had not heard from DiCicco until Tuesday afternoon, but was pleased he finally called.

"He couldn't have been nicer,'' she said. "He wanted to extend his condolences. He did say he felt like mistakes had been made, though not by people who responded. They were acting within protocol, but what happen should have not happened.''

Julie Ross said she spoke with DiCicco about the policies in other counties as well, particularly in Sarasota County.

According to Sarasota County emergency services media relations spokesperson Ashley Lusby, the policy in Sarasota is the same as it was in Manatee County before Tuesday. If EMS arrives at a scene, administers life-saving techniques and the patient can be saved, then EMS will transport that person to the hospital. If not, then the scene is transferred over to law enforcement, she said.

Lusby said there have been no incidents in Sarasota County similar to the one on Feb. 26 in Manatee County.

"It's not a question of will it ever happen, but of when it will happen,'' Julie Ross said.

The story generated interest not only nationally but overseas as well and the publicity Manatee County received from it was anything but favorable. The London Daily Mail even wrote an online article about what transpired, and nearly all of the 65 comments it generated were negative.

The new policies set in place Tuesday were ones that should have been there all along, according to Manatee County commissioner Vanessa Baugh.

"It sounds to me like it's the correct thing to do, but I would have thought we were doing that in the first place,'' she said. "I am glad to know we are now providing a dignified way of helping the person who is deceased as well as the family. We should have been doing it all along.

"I want to say a big thank you to Sheriff Wells for taking the bull by the horns with this issue.''

Copyright 2018 Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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