An investigation is underway after a Cincinnati 911 dispatcher apparently mishandled a call and the patient died Jan. 12 in a Groesbeck Road apartment.
In a letter, City Manager Patrick Duhaney told the mayor and council the dispatcher has been suspended with pay pending a disciplinary process detailed in the Collective Bargaining agreement. He called the dispatcher’s actions a “serious neglect of duty.”
Outlined in the letter below, Duhaney says a neighbor called 911 and the dispatcher spent minutes trying to convince the caller to go to the apartment of the patient in order to ask the person questions. The caller stated the neighbor “might not want to answer questions or want help,” but reiterated the urgency by saying he was having a stroke and to send help.
The call-taker responded that “we can’t force ourselves on him.”
No help was ever sent and the person died.
This is not the first time local 911 dispatchers have come under fire. In April 2018, 16-year-old Kyle Plush died in his minivan in the parking lot of Seven Hills School despite calling 911 twice saying he couldn’t breathe. His family is now suing the city.
Read Duhaney’s letter in full below:
Mr. Mayor and members of Council,
I am writing to make you aware of the discipline of an Emergency Communications Center (ECC) employee due to what can best be described as a serious neglect of duty.
On the night of January 12, a resident of an apartment building on Groesbeck Road called 9-1-1 to report that one of their neighbors appeared to have suffered a stroke. The caller was not with the patient at the time – he was in a different apartment, on a different floor. The call-taker attempted to direct the caller to go to the patient so he could be asked questions, and the caller indicated the patient might not want to answer questions or want help. The caller told the call-taker during the call that:
“He is getting worse and worse”
“This is an emergency.”
“He’s had a stroke.”
“He has a stroke and has another one coming. He’s gonna die.”
“He’s going to die here.”
Over a nearly eight-minute call, the 9-1-1 call-taker went back and forth with the caller, telling him “we can’t force ourselves on him” and “if he doesn’t want help, they won’t do anything. He has to want to be helped.” He was told by the 9-1-1 call-taker that “there is nothing the Fire Department or police officers can do. They can’t force themselves on him.”
Eventually the caller, hung up. The 9-1-1 call taker closed the call, no help was sent.
The next day another 9-1-1 call was received from this apartment complex. The caller indicated that the individual who suffered the medical emergency the previous night had passed away. They also requested assistance with removal of the body because we “wouldn’t come and help yesterday.”
ECC leadership initiated a complete and thorough investigation of the matter as soon as they became aware of the incident. It was determined that by 45 seconds into the call, the call-taker had been provided a good, dispatchable location, and had been told someone is having a stroke. Yet, they did not initiate an Emergency Medical Services response. Emergency Medical Dispatcher training explicitly states that a subject experiencing what appears to be a “Stroke must receive an immediate response that is not subject to delay.”
In total the call-taker violated multiple established and written ECC processes and procedures. Like all call-takers, this individual had taken various required trainings on these processes and should have taken a more appropriate course of action.
The call-taker was suspended with pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary process detailed in the Collective Bargaining agreement.
What took place on the night of January 12 is nothing short of a tragedy. It’s unclear if the individual would have lived or died, but the actions of this call-taker undermined the possibility of a positive outcome in this situation.
Though missteps took place in this instance, I do not want it to overshadow the amazing, difficult work that our call-takers, dispatchers and emergency communications team perform every day. In fact, there were three 911 calls regarding the same patient in the preceding days of the call that occurred on the night of January 12, 2020. ECC call-takers entered an incident to be dispatched to first responders on the first three calls, and first responders were able to evaluate and respond to the patient.
9-1-1 call takers often thankless jobs and it’s unfortunate that the light shines brightly on them when situations like this occur. I hope that none of us will allow the amazing day-to-day work and continued progress made at the ECC to be overshadowed or tarnished by the inaction of one individual.
Please let me know if you have any questions or need me to clarify anything else.
Patrick A. Duhaney
City of Cincinnati