EDITORIAL: Time to clean up the mess at SJ EMS

The good news is four of the five seats on the San Juan County Public Hospital District #1 Board are up for election next fall. The bad news is in the meantime, San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services are being overseen by a troika of commissioners who are not prioritizing the safety of the public.

Commissioners Dr. Michael Edwards, Dr. Mark Schwinge and Rebecca Smith have voted down motions offered by Commissioner Dr. Warren Appleton and seconded by Commissioner Anna Lisa Lindstrum regarding the qualifications of SJ EMS Chief Jerry Martin. Martin is a paramedic in addition to being chief. 

Appleton has expressed his concerns at several meetings. He also expressed his frustration with the numerous excuses he had been given by Martin when asked to provide documentation. They ranged from 'I need to speak to my attorney' to 'they are in a box somewhere in my house on the mainland'.

At the November 28, 2018 PHD meeting Appleton offered the following motion: 

Based on multiple recommendations and requests by Ms. Cathryn Holstein (Supervisor for EMS and Trauma for the State of Washington Department of Health) to Chief Jerry Martin of San Juan EMS for primary documentation records as outlined below;

I move that Chief Jerry Martin submit his paramedic education and Paramedic skills maintenance documentation for the years 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 to Ms. Holstein for authentication and verification. 

Further that Chief Jerry Martin inform SJCPHD#1 Superintendent Ms. Pam Hutchins by email of submission of above said records by 11 a.m. on that day. 

Further, if Chief Jerry Martin fails to submit these documents that he be suspended from the clinical practice of Paramedicine in San Juan County Public Hospital District #1 until such documentation is submitted, verified and accepted as factual by Ms. Holstein or her appointed representative. 

Edwards, Schwinge and Smith voted against the motion. 

Asked at the December PHD  meeting, why the three won't simply ask Martin to produce the paperwork and thereby reassure the public, Edwards replied, "Basically we are reticent to stand in on and basically override the opinion of the Department of Health. That is where we are coming from. If he was obligated to do so legally, we'd take a different stance."

Smith has said repeatedly that the state DOH is fine with Martin's credential. Appleton has given a different version of Holstein's stance.  

According to Appleton, under the Chief's contract, the board has the authority and right to ask for the documentation. 

What is especially egregious about the situation is the fact that when Edwards cast his no vote on November 28, he knew that the state Department of Health was investigating two complaints against Martin. One regards his  "failure to comply with the continuing education requirements in accordance with WAC 246-12-190 and 246-12-200." The other "complaint alleges incompetence, negligence, or malpractice."

Smith apparently knew about the investigations when she also voted no. It's a little difficult to tell, as she gave two completely different stories during the December 19 meeting. She said Martin had sent an email informing the entire board then minutes later she said no he didn't, she had just knew because she heard about it from Martin. 

Appleton and Lindstrum first heard about the existence of the two investigations when a member of the public spoke about them during the December 19 meeting. Edwards' answer for why he didn't tell the whole board  was: "There was nothing to see." (Read more about that here.) 

The behavior of Edwards, Smith and Schwinge raises several questions: 

Why wouldn't the commissioners who are responsible for the oversight of SJ EMS want to assure the public that its staff was properly trained? What is gained by not straightforwardly telling the Chief to submit his documentation? The records of the other four paramedics are on file. 

Why did Edwards keep the existence of the investigations from Appleton and Lindstrum? 

It's obvious when observing Appleton and Lindstrum, that they are very concerned and upset about the situation. Both have cited an ethical responsibility and concern about public safety. Lindstrum, whose position expires in 2023,  has said, "If he goes out and intubates someone and he causes harm because he hasn't done the training that's not OK with me."

Why wouldn't their fellow commissioners want to alleviate their concern?

What is going on?

The public has the right to know that the paramedic showing up at their door is properly trained. Asking for the paperwork seems a simple way to answer the question and ensure the public's safety. The PHD board should do so at its January meeting. 




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