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‘His body wasn’t even cold — are you ... kidding me?’ says son of intubated dead man

Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

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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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Aurieona Ginn says her boyfriend “keeps up with The Bellingham Herald all the time,” tagging and sending her stories online that she might find interesting.

But she never imagined the story link he sent her last week — one that reported about the Bellingham Fire Department performing multiple intubations on the body of a deceased patient on the floor of the Station 1 apparatus bay in late July — would be about her father, 52-year-old Bradley Ginn Sr., who died on July 31.

“No way that was about my dad,” Aurieona Ginn told The Herald Tuesday in an interview. “We had him cremated and put his ashes to rest.”

She even told her brother, Bradley Matthew Ginn Jr., who lives in Redmond, about the story, but he didn’t believe it either, telling The Herald, “We were like, ‘Naw, it can’t be.’”

But then Aurieona Ginn said she got a call last week, asking her and her mother to meet to discuss her father’s death Monday afternoon in the city of Bellingham offices.

“Nobody told us why — my head was still kind of in the clouds,” she said.

It was in that 20-minute meeting Monday — more than two months after her father had died and nearly a month after the results of an investigation into the incident were submitted Sept. 4 by Seattle-area attorney Sarah I. Hale — that Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville and Fire Chief Bill Newbold revealed to her and her mother that it was indeed her father’s body that fire department employees attempted to intubate 15 times while it was awaiting pick up by a funeral home.

Aurieona Ginn said Linville and Newbold were both apologetic and explained to her exactly what happened and that disciplinary actions had already been taken against those involved.

“I left the building, and I was distressed,” she said, adding she wishes she’d asked more questions during the meeting. “We had a brother that died in November, and on top of that, what just happened? It was very hurtful. I mean, this was my dad. I never had a step-dad — just my mom and my dad. I’d read all about it last week, and then it just kind of clicked — that was my dad. It was very stressful and hurtful, especially for it to happen here in Bellingham — a great little town to live in.”

City response

Bellingham Communications Director Vanessa Blackburn said in an email Tuesday to The Herald that the city cannot confirm the identity of the patient or release information on the family, citing patient privacy laws.

“We were initially told by the medical program director (Dr. Marvin Wayne) that there were no next of kin,” Mayor Linville told The Herald Tuesday in a statement. “We found out last week that there were, and immediately contacted the family and met with them yesterday (Monday).

“We expressed sympathy for their loss and addressed their questions. We then explained the event that happened at Station 1 and apologized that this procedure was performed on their loved one. We expressed our regret that this unacceptable event occurred.”

The Bellingham Fire Department disclosed that a ranking officer resigned and another retired in the wake of “serious misconduct”. The July incident involved a deceased patient’s body being used for an unauthorized training exercise.

Whatcom County Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Goldfogel confirmed in an email Tuesday to The Herald that Bradley Ginn Sr. died on July 31 and that his primary care provider signed the death certificate on the same day. Goldfogel also said the death certificate listed the location of death as Bellingham Fire Station 1.

“I’m livid,” said Bradley Ginn Jr., who was unable to arrange to be off work on short notice to attend Monday’s meeting. “I’m extremely angry they would do something like this. Me and my father’s relationship was rather strained, but nobody deserves this. If a consent form had been signed for these types of procedures, then that would be OK. But nothing was signed, and they did these procedures at a senior officer’s discretion.

“His body wasn’t even cold — are you (expletive) kidding me?”

Father remembered

Aurieona Ginn said her father worked in a fiberglass factory in Bellingham before the family moved to California, but they returned to Whatcom County about eight or nine years ago when Bradley Ginn Sr. began to develop some of the health issues that would ultimately claim his life.

Her father had four grandchildren and was known for his love of music, as he played bass guitar and the piano, Aureiona Ginn said, “but you didn’t want to hear him sing.” He passed that passion for music on to his children, teaching Bradley Ginn Jr. to play the drums.

But those fond memories of their father are now mixed with feelings of anger over what happened after he died and the length of time it took the city to notify them, she said.

“The halfhearted apology my sister and mother got from the mayor was just ridiculous,” Bradley Ginn Jr. said.

He said “something needs to be done,” adding that he has already has contacted a lawyer who is “digging in” to the incident.

Aurieona Ginn said she also has contacted a lawyer in Bellingham to explore legal options.

“They basically vandalized my father’s body while he was already at rest,” she said. “He was already gone, and what they did was completely not OK.”

The investigation

News of the incident first emerged Sept. 24, following an inquiry by The Bellingham Herald, when the city announced that one veteran officer had retired and another had resigned after an investigation revealed that a patient who died while being transported to the hospital was taken to Station 1.

While the body was at the station, 11 Bellingham Fire employees, including two office workers and an EMT who were not licensed to perform the procedure, performed 15 intubation attempts on the floor with the apparatus bay door open through at least some of the attempts.

“This incident was neither normal nor acceptable,” Newbold said in the city release at the time. “The chief officer directing this activity was immediately placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a complete and thorough investigation. The investigation confirmed to me that the actions of the personnel involved were unacceptable and constitute serious misconduct.”

An investigation into the incident, which was done by Hale and obtained by The Herald from the city on Wednesday, revealed further details on what happened at Station 1 and that witnesses said “tube checks” — or extricating breathing tubes that were placed as life-saving measures after patients died and then quickly reinserting them to help paramedics practice the procedure and meet requirements for certification — were an accepted practice of the Bellingham Fire Department for the past 25 years.

Washington State Department of Health Center for Public Affairs Communications Consultant Sharon Moysiuk said Tuesday in an email to The Herald that the Office of Investigation and Inspection has opened a complaint to see if an investigation is warranted in response to the incident.

Blackburn said Tuesday in an email to The Herald that the employees who admitted to performing intubations on the deceased patient were: Captain/Community Paramedic Jeff Brubaker, paramedic/firefighter Matt Cook, EMT/firefighter Hunter Elliott, EMS Captain Scott Farlow, paramedic/firefighter Steve Larsen, Medical Services Officer/Division Chief Mannix McDonnell, accounting assistant Kristia Peschka, paramedic/firefighter Micah Quintrall, paramedic/firefighter Derik Scott, office assistant Olivia Sund and paramedic/firefighter Aaron Wolven.

All 11 were disciplined, along with Fire Captain Tim VanderMey, who Blackburn said had his discipline “directed at clarifying his responsibility (reporting) rather than discipline for actions or activity.”

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

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