State investigating 11 Bellingham Fire staffers who practiced on dead patient’s body

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Bellingham Fire intubations

The Bellingham Herald broke the news that the body of a patient who died on the way to the hospital was used for intubation practice by 11 Bellingham Fire employees. Here are the stories about what happened.

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The Washington State Department of Health’s Office of Investigation and Inspection has opened a complaint to see if an investigation is warranted in response to a story by The Bellingham Herald about officers of the Bellingham Fire Department leading an intubation training session on a deceased patient who was taken to Fire Station 1 in July.

“It will now be assessed by case management to see if it warrants investigation,” Washington State Department of Health Center for Public Affairs Communications Consultant Sharon Moysiuk said Tuesday in an email to The Herald. “That’s all part of the process. The individuals will be identified that were involved as part of being a credentialed health care provider.”

Though Moysiuk said everything is allegations at this point, if the investigation finds sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, the individuals may be charged with unprofessional conduct. They would then have 20 days to respond in writing or to request a hearing with the Health Law Judge.

“There can be a range of consequences such as suspension, fines and/or require additional education and, in the worst possible case, a revoked credential,” Moysiuk said.

The city of Bellingham Tuesday released the names of the 11 staff members who were involved in the incident, which Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Newbold said in a statement Monday “was neither normal nor acceptable.” According to communications director Vanessa Blackburn in a Tuesday email to The Herald, the employees who admitted to performing intubations on the deceased patient were: Jeff Brubaker, Matt Cook, Hunter Elliott, Scott Farlow, Steve Larsen, Mannix McDonnell, Kristia Peschka, Micah Quintrall, Derik Scott, Olivia Sund and Aaron Wolven.

One additional person, who was unnamed, was disciplined related to the incident, Blackburn said.

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Bellingham Fire Department Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

According to the 2017 Bellingham Fire Department annual report, McDonnell was selected to fill the division chief role for the EMS division midway through last year. According to a 2017 story by The Bellingham Herald, Brubaker was a Bellingham Fire captain, and a 2016 story listed Farlow as an EMS supervisor. The 2017 annual report also listed Peschka and Sund as district administration hires.

Blackburn said the city is not aware of any criminal investigations at this time. Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks confirmed Tuesday in an email to The Herald that the Sheriff’s Office was not involved in a criminal investigation of the incident. And, a Tuesday email from Bellingham Police Department Records Supervisor Brandi Nyhus, responding to a public records request by The Bellingham Herald, said, “The Bellingham Police Department has no responsive records to disclose.”

The city of Bellingham announced Monday that an officer with 28 years of experience with the fire department retired and another officer with 23 years experience resigned following an investigation into the incident.

The investigation revealed that in July a deceased patient was taken by ambulance to Station 1 to await a pickup by a funeral home. While the body was at the station, several fire department members, including a division chief and EMS captains, practiced multiple intubations, according to information provided by Blackburn on Monday.

“The chief officer directing this activity was immediately placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a complete and thorough investigation,” Newbold said in a statement Monday. “The investigation confirmed to me that the actions of the personnel involved were unacceptable and constitute serious misconduct.”

In addition to the two officers who retired or resigned, Blackburn said the other nine members who admitted to intubating the patient received suspensions without pay or letters in their personnel files, depending on their involvement.

Reach David Rasbach at 360-715-2286 or drasbach@bhamherald.com.

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