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Children's Hospital doctor blasts DC Fire & EMS Department over death of child. Calls lack of transport 'inexcusable'. Refers to case as a 'pediatric Rosenbaum'.

Dr. Joseph Wright’s letter to the editor

DC Fire & EMS Department’s response to Dr. Wright’s letter to the editor

DC’s Task Force on Emergency Medical Services Final Report (September, 2007)

DC inspector general’s report on the emergency response to assist David Rosenbaum (June, 2006)

DC inspector general’s follow-up report to Rosenbaum investigation (September, 2009)

As the investigation into the death of Stephanie Stephens continues, a top official at Children’s National Medical Center has made his views about the case known. In a letter to the editor in Monday’s Washington Post, Dr. Joseph Wright said, “The decision not to immediately transport a 2-year-old with respiratory symptoms is inexcusable.”

Dr. Joseph Wright from Children's National Medical Center website.
Dr. Joseph Wright from Children's National Medical Center website.

Dr. Wright is referring to the crew from DC Fire & EMS Department’s Medic 33 who did not take the little girl to the hospital after her mother’s first call to 911 on the morning of February 10. It wasn’t until another 911 call, about nine-hours later, that a different crew from Medic 33 took the girl to Children’s. She died the next day. The family told 9NEWS NOW Stephanie had pneumonia.

Dr. Wright, a senior vice president and pediatric emergency physician, pointed out in his letter that he believes the city has made little progress since the controversy surrounding the inadequate care provided to dying former New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum. Wright wrote to the Post, “It was only a matter of time before a pediatric Rosenbaum case surfaced.”

According to Dr. Wright’s biography, he is a founding director of the hospital’s Institute for Prehospital Pediatrics and Emergency Research and “provides state-level leadership as the EMS Medical Director for Pediatrics within the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems”. Wright is also a senior investigator and medical director with “the federally-funded Emergency Medical Services for Children National Resource Center.”

DC Fire & EMS Department spokesman Pete Piringer disputes Dr. Wright’s claims. In an email to Piringer said, “During the past few years significant progress has been made in many areas concerning the state of EMS in the District of Columbia.”

Piringer points to the implementation of the large majority of the goals from the task force ordered by Mayor Adrian Fenty to provide a blueprint for the future of EMS following Rosenbaum’s death in 2006. According to Piringer, “As of today, the Department has completed 39 of those 50 action items, most well ahead of schedule, and is making substantial progress on completing the remaining 11 items.”

Chief Dennis Rubin headed the the task force. Rubin is about to celebrate his third anniversary in command of the DC Fire & EMS Department. Critics, like Kenneth Lyons, president of the union representing civilian EMS workers, point out that Chief Rubin is now in search of his third medical director and is on his fourth crew to lead EMS training. Lyons calls the lack of continuity “schizophrenic”.

While Lyons believes Dr. Wright is premature in judging the EMS crew in the Stephens case, he concurs with Wright’s claims there are problems in providing pre-hospital care to children. In his letter Wright said, “I have stated often for the public record before the D.C. Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary just how little attention D.C. Fire and EMS has paid to preparing its workforce in the care of children.”

Lyons tells that Dr. Wright has long been an advocate for improved training and protocols in dealing with children who are ill or injured and has offered to assist the city in making these improvements.

The public relations staff at Children’s National Medical Center was unable to schedule an interview with Dr. Wright on Tuesday.

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