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DC Fire Department medical director resigns

Jullette Saussy says DC Fire and EMS is 'highly toxic,' causes 'unnecessary loss of life' due to slow response times

The medical director of the Washington, D.C. fire department is stepping down after just seven months in the role due to what she called “inefficiency” and “unnecessary loss of life.”

In a scathing resignation letter addressed to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Medical Director Jullette Saussy wrote that the culture of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is “highly toxic,” and that any attempts to make changes “are met with resistance from the top down.”

“The department refuses to measure true performance beginning with response times,” Saussy said. “You cannot fix what you do not measure honestly and this is one main reason the system continues to fail the people we are here to serve.”

“A lack of accountability at all levels has created a workforce that is undisciplined and unchecked,” she added. “Major infractions result in virtually no discipline and the ‘practice of medicine’ is ‘overseen’ by people with no authority, no medical expertise or teeth to drive change. Yet, it is this very ‘practice of medicine’ for which this department is so infamously known to be deficient.”

The D.C. Fire and EMS Department has been ranked among the worst in the country by the International Association of Firefighters, with an average ambulance response time of 17 minutes recorded in 2015. While federal law does not establish a required response time for emergency medical services, the National Fire Protection Agency sets the standard that a first responder should arrive within four minutes 90 percent of the time (PDF), and an advanced life support team should arrive within eight minutes 90 percent of the time.

In her letter, Saussy offered the recent example of a man who had been stabbed in the chest, a “potentially survivable injury,” on the morning of Jan. 27. But it took 18 minutes for an ambulance to reach the victim, and he died.

“People are dying needlessly because we are moving too slow,” she wrote. “Every time we send scarce resources to low level calls, we deplete our resources and prolong response times to true emergencies.”

Saussy said her last day working for the department would be Saturday, Feb. 13.

Michael Czin, a spokesman for Mayor Muriel Bowser, said the mayor is “committed to reforming” the department and improving patient outcomes.

“We’re disappointed that Dr. Saussy only put in seven months,” said Ed Smith, president of the D.C. firefighters’ union.

Smith said the department’s problems related to staffing, resources and training are significant, and will take time to address. “She essentially quit before she even got started,” he said.  “She definitely did not give it enough time.”

The panel that oversees the city’s emergency services is looking into Saussy’s letter.

“It’s deeply distressing,” said D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who sits on the Committee on the Judiciary, which has oversight of the Fire and EMS Department.

“I’m going to ask the chair of the committee to hold a hearing on this specifically,” she said. “I don’t know about the truth of all of the allegations, but we can’t turn a blind eye to it.”

With The Associated Press

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