NJ DOH investigates after EMTs accused of botching COVID-19 call, dropping patient
Ed Fox, who died due to COVID-19 two weeks after the 911 call, reportedly suffered two falls under the care of the EMS crew, who are also accused of forgetting to connect oxygen to a non-rebreather mask
WYCKOFF, N.J. — Ed Fox loved high school football and everything that came with it.
For years, Fox, a clinical psychologist, was the president of Don Bosco’s Touchdown Club. Alongside one of his best friends, legendary Don Bosco football coach Greg Toal, he helped train freshman players to join the ranks of the powerhouse team.
And with his son Spencer, a former Don Bosco football player and now coach at St. Joseph Regional High School, there were few better days than sitting on their deck together, watching a game.
On Christmas Eve, after two weeks on a ventilator fighting for his life, Ed Fox, 68, died from complications with the coronavirus, his son said. His family is now outraged after what they claim was a nightmarish experience when two EMTs from a private EMS company allegedly mishandled Ed Fox’s treatment as he struggled to breathe.
“It’s absolutely tragic what happened,” said Spencer Fox. “What happened to my dad unfortunately can’t be reversed.”
Fox claims that two EMTs from NJ Mobile Healthcare mishandled his father’s care when they responded to his Wyckoff home on Dec. 10, affixing a non-rebreather mask that was not connected to an oxygen source, letting him fall off a bed and hit his head and dropping him from a stretcher.
In an email, the Department of Health confirmed it is investigating the emergency call. A spokeswoman for NJ Mobile Healthcare did not answer specific questions regarding the Dec. 10 call, citing patient confidentiality, but provided a statement that said the company provides the “best pre-hospital care possible.”
The family is furious, claiming that the incompetent care from the private EMS company caused their father to lose precious time and may have exacerbated his condition, said Fox. During the emergency call at their Ellis Place home, Spencer Fox feared that his father would die if police officers did not step in to take over his care, he said.
After the two EMTs allegedly dropped his father from a stretcher, Spencer Fox ran out to ask the police officers for help, he said.
“I run out and say ‘These guys are going to kill my dad,’” Fox said. “‘My dad’s not going to make it out of here. We need help.’”
A week after Ed Fox and his son had tested positive for COVID-19, Spencer Fox walked into his parents’ room to find his father fighting to breathe, growing blue in the face, deemed by the CDC to be an emergency warning sign to immediately get medical assistance.
After calling 911, the first to arrive at the home were Wyckoff Police officers, followed shortly by a private EMS company, NJ Mobile Healthcare, said Fox. When Fox asked an officer why Wyckoff Volunteer Ambulance Corps did not respond, the officer told him that the volunteer ambulance corps was not responding to COVID-19 calls, said Fox.
Multiple calls to Wyckoff Volunteer Ambulance Corps were not returned. An email to Randy Banks, captain of the ambulance corps, was not immediately returned.
Robert Landel, Wyckoff’s township attorney, confirmed that the volunteer ambulance corps had directed the Bergen County Communications Center, which handles dispatch and 911 calls for much of Bergen County, to direct any COVID-19 related calls to private companies, not to the volunteer corps.
The volunteer ambulance corps did not have a contract with NJ Mobile Healthcare, said Landel.
A spokeswoman for NJ Mobile Healthcare did not answer specific questions regarding the Dec. 10 call, citing patient confidentiality, but provided a statement that said the company provides the “best pre-hospital care possible.”
The alleged mishandling started when the EMTs entered Ed Fox’s bedroom, where they sat him up in bed and both walked out, said Fox. After the two EMTs left the room, Ed Fox slid off the bed, hitting his head, pinning it between the floor and the bed frame, he said.
At one point, the two EMTs allegedly did not buckle Ed Fox into a stretcher and when they lifted Fox up, he fell out of the stretcher from at least a foot off the ground, his son said.
A police report provided to NJ Advance Media by the Fox family confirms that Fox implored the officers to help his father, lest the EMTs injure or kill him.
“He stated that he felt his father was going to ‘die in their hands,’” a police officer wrote in the report.
Wyckoff Police officers donned full protective gear to enter the house, but the alleged improper care by the EMTs continued, said Fox. Ed Fox lay on the floor, seemingly lifeless, his son said. Spencer Fox turned to an EMT, telling him his father needed oxygen immediately, he said.
When the EMTs returned with a non-rebreather mask, they affixed it to Ed Fox’s face, said Fox. But it was later found that the non-rebreather mask was not connected to an oxygen source, he said. The police report confirmed that the mask was not connected to an oxygen source.
A follow-up email and call to the spokeswoman for NJ Mobile Healthcare were not immediately returned. The initial statement did not comment on the Dec. 10 call.
“NJ Mobile HealthCare respects and honors privacy rights of our patients, and thus does not disclose information about the care or services provided to specific individuals; our staff is dedicated to the communities and families we serve, and we are committed to providing the best pre-hospital care possible,” the statement said.
Just five days after the 911 call, the state Department of Health launched an investigation into the incident, a DOH spokeswoman confirmed. The DOH declined to comment further, citing the open investigation.
After driving away with Ed Fox in the back of the ambulance, EMTs that had arrived from Valley Hospital joined them on the way to the hospital.
A day after Fox arrived at the hospital, he was put on a ventilator and given remdesivir to try to treat his condition, said Spencer Fox. Two weeks later, after being on the ventilator for days, Fox succumbed to the virus, he said.
With Ed Fox’s death, the Fox family lost a patriarch and Toal lost a best friend.
The two had been best friends for 10 years, bonding over football and helping kids, said Toal. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Toal and Fox had a tradition: every Sunday they’d go into New York City and explore a different part of the bustling metropolis.
No matter where they went or what they saw, Fox would always be making Toal laugh, the consummate jokester, said Toal.
“He helped a lot of people. We had a lot of laughs,” said Toal. “He’d help people and never charge a nickel for it. He was a heck of a psychologist. He really did a great job of helping people. I think that’s his legacy. He went out of his way for people.”
While the Fox family declined to comment on if they were planning to take any legal action, the push to get answers and accountability for what happened to Ed Fox is about preventing future situations like theirs, said Spencer Fox.
“Honestly at this point it’s really not about my dad,” he said. “It’s about people in the future. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else. If this company is still on the road, this can happen to anybody reading this article.
“I know my dad would want us to fight for future families.”
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