Federal lawsuit filed against Bellingham, fire department over dead man’s intubation

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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The wife of the deceased man Bellingham Fire Department employees practiced performing endotracheal intubations on last summer is suing the city of Bellingham, the fire department employees and Whatcom County’s Medical Program Director Dr. Marvin Wayne for the decades-long practice of intubating dead people.

Jai Ginn, wife of Bradley Ginn Sr., filed a federal lawsuit Aug. 1 in the Western District of Washington alleging that the parties violated her civil rights to due process and for tortious interference with a dead body, according to federal court documents.

Ginn said she’s suffered severe emotional distress and that her “life is forever changed” as a result of the fire department employees’ conduct. She’s seeking personal and punitive damages, court records state.

“The City of Bellingham and Marvin Wayne, M.D. knew or should have known that their policy for the last 20 years was objectively unreasonable and violated medical ethical standards. No reasonable medical provider and no reasonable city or other entity would have instituted such a policy,” the lawsuit states.

On July 31, 2018, 11 fire department employees, including two office workers, admitted to performing 15 intubations, which were commonly referred to as “tube checks,” on the body of Ginn Sr. while he was on the floor of Station 1. Ginn Sr. died in a Medic One ambulance while en route to St. Joseph hospital, the lawsuit states.

He was placed in a body bag and taken to Station 1 to await pickup from a funeral home. Over the next 45 minutes, 11 Bellingham Fire employees performed 11 successful intubations, and four non-successful ones. No family members were ever notified or asked for consent, according to the lawsuit.

Ginn said she and Ginn Sr. were married for 34 years. She was on her way to see him, but was unaware he died or that he was being intubated, her lawsuit states.

Ginn Sr. also had a valid do not resuscitate order, which meant no life-saving measures, such as intubation, were to be performed.

Ginn’s lawyer could not be reached for comment. Senior Assistant City Attorney Shane Brady, who is representing the city and its employees; Wayne’s lawyer, Assistant Attorney General Patricia Dodd; the State Department of Health and Wayne all declined to comment.

A response to Ginn’s lawsuit has not yet been filed by Dodd or Brady, records show.

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.

Accepted practice

A report by Seattle attorney Sarah I. Hale, revealed that “tube checks” were an accepted practice Bellingham Fire paramedics used to meet recertification requirements for their licenses for at least the past 25 years. After patients died, paramedics took out breathing tubes that were usually placed as life-saving measures and quickly re-inserted them to practice the procedure.

The report also found “tube checks” were most commonly performed when the deaths were unlikely to be reviewed by the medical examiner, such as when the patients had active DNRs, and occurred in a private setting, like the back of an ambulance.

Ginn’s lawsuit alleges Wayne, Whatcom’s Medical Program Director, instituted, promoted and participated in the unwritten “tube check” policy. Wayne advocated for performing the intubations in certain circumstances, according to Hale’s report, saying that “if someone is caring for you, you want them to be highly skilled.” The practice “allows ‘us to test and keep up our skills.’”

Wayne has been the director of Whatcom’s medical policy since the 1970s, Ginn’s lawsuit states. He is state-appointed, operates under its direction and protection, and is certified by the state health department. He’s responsible for establishing EMS protocols and ensures EMTs and paramedics throughout the county are skilled and trained.

Ginn’s lawsuit alleges her husband’s body was used by the fire department as a “hasty means of recertification protocol,” for conducting an impromptu intubation lesson — in which two office workers were allowed to participate — and as a way to test new equipment.

When you call 9-1-1 with a medical emergency in Whatcom County, who will respond? Here's what you need to know about Whatcom Medic One.

Previous claims

Ginn previously filed a claim with the city seeking $15 million in damages over the incident. In late November, the city denied her claim. Ginn Sr.’s son and daughter also filed claims with the city, which were settled in late January for $150,000 — with $75,000 going to each of them.

Ginn Sr.’s brother, Robert Fox, of California, also filed a federal lawsuit against the city and fire department employees. The city responded in late July denying the claims and asked for a dismissal, federal court records state.

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.