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Bellingham Fire chief: ‘We will not obtain training ... on recently deceased patients’

Timeline of investigation into Bellingham paramedic practices

The body of a man who died on the way to the hospital was used for training purposes by 9 Bellingham firefighters on July 31. Here's what happened.
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The body of a man who died on the way to the hospital was used for training purposes by 9 Bellingham firefighters on July 31. Here's what happened.

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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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Training on recently deceased patients will no longer be an accepted practice for Bellingham Fire Department paramedics, as the department’s policy has been clarified in response to a dead man being intubated by 11 employees July 31 on the floor of Station 1.

“Patient care and procedures should only be provided with the goal of patient resuscitation,” assistant supervising physician Dr. Emily Junck said Thursday in an emailed statement to The Bellingham Herald. “After a patient has been pronounced as deceased, no further procedures should be provided without consent of next of kin or durable power of attorney.”

Dr. Junck will transition to the city’s supervising physician Jan. 1.

“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 found to have been an accepted practice of the department, according to an investigation into the July 31 incident by Seattle attorney Sarah I. Hale submitted Sept. 4 and released to The Bellingham Herald last week.

Thursday’s announcement seems to bring an end to that practice, as Chief Bill Newbold said training will not be done on deceased patients.

“Through working with our new supervising physician, (Dr.) Emily Junck, and the county medical program director, Dr. (Marvin) Wayne, we have clarified with and directed our employees that from this point forward, we will not obtain training through procedures on recently deceased patients,” Newbold said in a statement emailed to The Herald Thursday. “We remain committed to rebuild the trust between the fire department and our community. The men and women of the city of Bellingham Fire Department are good people with a strong passion to provide the best fire response and EMS care.”

Twelve department employees were disciplined Sept. 17 for their role in the July 31 incident, city Communications Director Vanessa Blackburn said Thursday in an email to The Herald. EMS Captain Scott Farlow submitted his resignation Sept. 17, Blackburn said, while Medical Services Officer/Division Chief Mannix McDonnell resigned Sept. 20. The city had earlier told The Herald that one of the supervisors had retired.

Chief Newbold will review promotional lists that have been created to fill McDonnell’s and Farlow’s vacant positions, Blackburn said.

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.

Washington State Department of Health spokesperson Sharon Moysiuk said Wednesday in an email to The Herald that the department is actively investigating the nine certified Bellingham Fire employees who attempted intubations. The investigation could take up to 170 days, Moysiuk said, and, if sufficient wrongdoing is found, consequences could include fines, suspensions, additional training or revoked credentials.

The two others who attempted intubations were office assistants and not certified and so are not being investigated by the Health Department.

It is not yet known if a criminal investigation into the actions is warranted, Blackburn said.

“What happened at Station 1 was not right,” Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said Thursday in an emailed statement to The Herald. “We have disciplined the individuals, and this will not happen again.”

The deceased patient was identified by family members in interviews with The Herald Tuesday as Bradley Ginn Sr. Linville and Newbold met with Ginn family on Monday to inform them of what happened July 31 at Station 1. Aurieona Ginn and Brandley Ginn Jr. both told the Herald Tuesday they have contacted lawyers concerning the incident.

“We expressed our deep regret, and we have offered counseling services to the family,” Linville said.

Reach David Rasbach at david.rasbach@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2286.

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