Dr. Michael Williams, in the white shirt, from a May, 2008 Washington Post photo by Sarah L. Voisin.
The DC Fire & EMS Department officially confirmed late Wednesday evening a STATter 911 report from earlier in the day that Dr. Michael Williams, the department’s medical director, has resigned. As expected, Dr. James Augustine, the current deputy medical director, will take over as acting director.
According to a press release issued by the department, Dr. Williams “submitted his resignation effective August 29 in order to pursue new career opportunities”. Sources within the DC government indicate there had been increasing tension between Dr. Williams, the department’s leadership and Mayor Adrian Fenty’s staff over the direction of EMS in the District of Columbia.
Dr. Williams could not be reached for comment, but he told Elissa Silverman of The Washington Post, “I think it was thought best that I resign”.
Aides to Chief Dennis Rubin indicate Rubin did not ask Williams to resign. Sources familiar with the situation tell STATter 911, the arrival of Dr. Augustine earlier this month, along with a struggle over maintaining a leadership role in the department in an effort to implement his vision for EMS in the city, helped make it clear to Dr. Williams that it was time to move on.
A department spokesman supplied this statement from Chief Dennis Rubin about the changes:
“While I am sorry to see him leave, I am confident that this department will continue to build on his legacy of passionate commitment to the improvement of emergency medical services. Dr. Augustine is a nationally recognized leader in the field of emergency medicine and I am excited about the leadership and knowledge he brings to the department.”
Kenneth Lyons, a paramedic who is the president of the union representing the department’s civilian EMS force, said Wednesday evening, “Six medical director’s in seven years says a lot about the city’s commitment to EMS”.
Lyons has long battled with city officials over the direction and leadership of EMS. Lyons had secured a campaign promise from Mayor Adrian Fenty to separate EMS from the fire department. Mayor Fenty instead followed the recommendation of a task force led by Chief Rubin to keep EMS within the department.
In April, Mayor Fenty and Chief Rubin announced a plan to make the civilian force uniformed members of the department. That would mean one rank structure and disciplinary process to cover both fire and EMS. The plan provides for improved retirement benefits. It would also likely mean the EMS workers would then become members of IAFF Local 36 and leave AFGE Local 3721 lead by Lyons.
When the plan to unify the department was announced, Chief Rubin had hoped to have it in place within two weeks. The plan has run into delays, including the need for council legislation scheduled for September.
Dr. Williams was hired in the wake of a report outlining serious problems in the delivery of emergency care after the January, 2006 death of former New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum.
Rosenbaum’s son-in-law, Toby Halliday, who served on the EMS task force, told The Washington Post, “Dr. Williams is responsible for some of the most important improvements in the EMS program and we’re sorry to see him leave.”
Dr. Augustine was previously medical director for the Atlanta Fire Department. Chief Rubin had been chief in Atlanta prior to coming to Washington in April, 2007.
The department’s press release indicates a national search will be conducted for a new medical director.
Below is Dr. Augustine’s resume provided by the DC Fire & EMS Department:
James Augustine, MD
Interim Medical Director, Fire and Emergency Medical Services
Dr. Augustine’s service in the emergency system spans 27 years. He is a board-certified emergency physician who has experience as a firefighter, EMT and medical director in Ohio and Atlanta, Georgia. He recently joined DC Fire and EMS after performing as Medical Director for Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and Airport Division of Atlanta Fire at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Having a strong commitment to emergency services and preparedness, Dr. Augustine has been a long-term participant in EMS leadership and disaster preparedness activities. He served as first chair of the Ohio EMS Board and as president of the Ohio Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians. He chaired ASTM Task Group E54.02.01, which developed Standards for Hospital Preparedness. He was chair of the Health Care Section of the Atlanta Metropolitan Medical Response System.
Augustine is executive editor of the journal ED Management, a senior reviewer for Annals of Emergency Medicine, and on the editorial boards for the journals EMS and JEMS. He has published numerous articles on emergency services and participated in national and state leadership activities on emergency systems.
Augustine graduated from the Ohio State University, then attended medical school at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He received his emergency medicine training through Wright State School of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine. After completing a fellowship in Emergency Department Administration, he participated as a faculty member at Wright State University and Emory School of Medicine. Augustine just moved into Washington, DC with his wife Linda, and has three children – Jill, Josh, and Jenna.