Opinion

It’s time to end the practice of ‘tube checking’

Here’s how Whatcom Medic One works

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.
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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.

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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 news this week that Whatcom Medic One emergency medical service has a 25-year policy of practicing intubation on the bodies of dead patients is chilling.

We have so much respect for the men and women of the fire service. We see their heroism and dedication in the daily news of their work and in learning that at least one of their members had the courage to speak up against the practice, launching the investigation that led to two veterans leaving the department and 10 others being disciplined.

We’re grateful to that whistleblower, and to those who tipped us to the existance of the report. The community should be proud of the members of the fire service who spoke frankly about the standard of care elsewhere in Whatcom County and around the region.

The city of Bellingham-commissioned investigation of the late-July incident was submitted Sept. 4. It was released to the public this week, after Bellingham Herald reporters asked to see it.

We commend the city for releasing the names of those who took part. The hundreds of other firefighters, paramedics and EMTs ought not to be tainted.

However, in light of the three investigations into criminal actions by city police officers in as many years, we expected the city to be more forthcoming in telling citizens what happened in the fire department.

We’re concerned that the city’s response has been limited to actions against individuals. While there was a breakdown in trust and responsibility and we applaud the action taken, we wonder at the lack of departmental concern about the practice of “tube checking.”

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While we agree it’s critical to have well-trained paramedics and EMTs, other districts in Whatcom County and around the state meet that need without resorting to practicing on deceased patients without consent.

That the practice was hidden from families – done behind closed doors – indicates to us that the department recognized this is not a practice the community would accept.

It’s time for Medic One and city leaders to step up and end the practice of “tube checking.”

Let’s get back to having a first-class paramedic service in Whatcom County.

Julie Shirley is the executive editor of The Bellingham Herald. Email her at julie.shirley@bellinghamherald.com.

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