Something amiss at SJ EMS - Updated with info from Dr. Sullivan

Rumors have been circulating about problems at San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services. Leaders of other emergency-related agencies are allegedly having difficulty working with the SJ EMS Chief Jerry Martin. People are upset that taxpayers are paying the ferry fare for him to take his EMS-provided vehicle to his home on Ferndale on weekends.

Concerns have been raised by San Juan County Hospital District #1 Commissioners about the fact SJ EMS does not have a contract with a physician to conduct run reviews. Several physicians have held the position in the past including Dr. Burke Gossum, Dr. Michael Sullivan, Dr. Stone. Dr. Sullivan is the county's Medical Program Director, responsible for providing medical oversight and guidance to Emergency Medical Services Technicians and Paramedics.

Dr. Sullivan conducts run reviews with the Orcas Island Fire and Rescue Department and with Lopez Island Fire and Rescue Department. Run reviews are usually held in group meetings of EMS staff and volunteer EMTs.

Asked in a phone interview on July 17, if run reviews are being conducted at SJ EMS. Martin said they are. Each run is reviewed by the on-call physician. "We are getting feedback from the physician who has direct contact with the patient," he said.

He noted when Dr. Sullivan does run reviews he "picks and chooses" the calls to review with the group and doesn't review every call.

San Juan Islander was unable to reach Dr. Sullivan before the article was originally posted. Dr. Sullivan, who has an extremely busy schedule, did have time to respond to the article by email on Wednesday afternoon. The article is updated to include his remarks. 

He wrote: "For the record, I review every run for Orcas Island, Lopez Island, & Shaw Island (as well as runs for Whatcom County Fire District 7). Run reviews are objective, retrospective, quality improvement measures used by EMS agencies throughout the industry to asses such things as response times, proper medication administration and dosing, timely and appropriate airway management, patient and provider safety, and patient outcomes among other things. From the runs that I review I then select runs to go over with the providers where feedback is needed or learning opportunities are present. I think you would find that the providers involved in these reviews find them very informative, educational and productive. A log is maintained of each run that is reviewed."

He also wrote: "To the best of my knowledge SJIEMS does not employ any on-call physicians, so I can only assume that he (Chief Martin) is talking about the on-duty physician in the Emergency Department. I can promise you that the on-duty physician in the emergency department is rarely reviewing SJIEMS runs. The ED physician gets a report from the providers when a patient is brought to the hospital and they take over care from that point. SJIEMS occasionally inquires on patient outcomes but this is not a regular practice and is not what is meant by “run review”."

Chief Martin says he does live on San Juan Island. He rents a place during the week. He travels to his home in Ferndale on weekends to be with his wife. He doesn't go every weekend as sometimes he has meetings scheduled. He says his contract allows him to take the SJ EMS vehicle when he goes to the mainland. 

San Juan Public Hospital District #1 Board met in a special meeting July 17 “To receive and evaluate complaints or charges brought against a public officer or employee...and to review and take action on complaints and/employee performance." 

Following an executive session the board passed a motion to ask for all reports including run reviews and followups involving a specific case to be turned over to the PHD within 48 hours. The documents will then be given to legal counsel to remove any private HIPAA information. The board declined to name the public officer or employee involved citing personnel rules. Chief Martin is an employee of the hospital district, Dr. Sullivan is not. 

Commissioner Warren Appleton described the situation as urgent and expressed doubt that followup reports existed.

The board next meets at 3 p.m. Wednesday, July 25 in the Frank Wilson EMS building.

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