By Brett Buffington
In an emergency, the red flashing lights and siren are usually signs that help's on the way…
But, in a WJBF News Channel 6 investigation, we've found a shocking trend…where three McDuffie County families say, when ambulances got to their homes, the paramedics on board seemed to be more concerned with who was paying the bill…instead of getting sick people to the hospital.
Our story begins more than a year ago on a hot summer day in June of 2010…
Sheila Hill says she remembers the day very well. She says, on her way out of her house that morning, she noticed something was wrong with her air conditioner and it was starting to get warm in her house…not a big concern for her…but a very big deal for her special needs grandson Kamarian, who at the time was less than 1-year-old. Kamarian suffers from chronic lung disease. He has a trachyotomy and requres several machines to keep his oxygen levels up. The 6-month-old had just come home from an extended stay at the Pedicatric ICU at Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center the week before.
Hill says, when she got home that afternoon, the air conditioning repair…nobody had come to fix her air conditioner and it was just downright hot in the house. She says the heat caused baby Kamarian to start having seizures…so she called 911. The dispatcher sent an ambulance…but when the paramedics got to her house, Hill says she was shocked by their actions…
Sheila Hill: “They said that's not a real emergency and I said, 'yes, it is'. They said, 'he seems fine to me,' and I said, 'sir, he's not fine, he has hypoxic seizures,' and he said, 'he looks good to me.' I said, 'now, he does, but he's having sezures back to back.”
Hill says she argued with the paramedic and the EMT for almost thirty minutes. Instead of just taking the baby to the hospital, she says they offered this option: “I'll tell you what we'll do, we'll help you put the equiptment in the car.' I said, 'oh no, that's not going to work because this is not my equipment.' They said, 'we'll just help you get him out.' I said, 'even if you did help me put it in there, who's going to help me get it out?' and then I said, 'I can't go to the neighbor's house, they don't have oxygen tanks in their home. He really needs a hospital.”
During the argument, Hill says the emergency workers asked her who would pay for the trip if they took the child to the hospital? Hill says she had enough and went to give Kamarian another dose of seizure medication…when he had a sezure and stopped breathing. She says that's when the medics panicked.
Hill: “They said, 'what do we do?' I said, 'oh, now we get excited!”
The ambulance took Kamarian to the McDuffie Regional Medical Center then on to Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center, where he spent the next week back in the Pediatric ICU recovering…
Hill: “Which, if they had taken him to the hospital like I told them to do, we may not have gotten to that point.”
Now we fast forward over a year…to a story very similar to Shelia Hill's experience.
Shanika Jackson called 911 when she realized her cousin, who lives with her, was off his medication and had a reaction. Jackson, who is a nurse, says she'd never dealt with a situation like that…so she called for help. She says a police officer and a McDuffie County ambulance showed up.
Shanika Jackson: “The paramedic arrived and he was asking me questions about what he was diganosed with. The EMT came up in right behind, explaining to me how much the trip to transport him from my house to the hospital was going to cost.”
Jackson says she was suprised that even came up…but even more suprising is what she says happened next…
Jackson: “He called one of the police officers outside and he went on to say that, in so many words, “When are they going to realize that you don't call EMS to deal with crazy people?”
Jackson says the EMT refused to take her cousin to the hospital…telling her he would quit his job and walk back if that's what it came to…obviously causing a big scene in Jackson's front yard. Judging from the recording of Thomson Police Department officer Scott Whittle telling dispatch what was going on.
Dispatch recording: “Dispatch, please make a note that the EMT is being beligerant and refusing to take the patient to the hospital.”
Officer Whittle loaded Jackson's 20-year-old cousin in the back of his patrol car and took him to the hospital himself.
Jackson: “He was sick, he needed help and he didn't get it. He did not receive it from them.”
But, maybe the most shocking story is the one of 2-1/2-month-old Leanna Bell. The infant died after her parents say McDuffie County Emergency Medical worker refused to take her to the hospital.
The baby's father, Marion Few, says when the baby woke up that morning, he noticed she was having trouble breathing…and had a milky white substance coming from her mouth and nose. He shard with us a recording of baby Leanna trying to breath. He says he used his phone to capture the sound just after he called 911.
But, the young couple says their story is just like the two we've already told. When the ambulance showed up…they say the emergency works didn't offer much help.
Marion Few: “The lady picked up my little girl and the baby was slouching. The only thing moving was her eyes. My little girl passed gas just one time in her arms and the lady said, 'oh, she just has gas.”
Few says the EMT and paramedic refused to take the baby to the hospital…even after he begged for help.
Few:”I said ma'am can we please go to the hospital. I'm a young adult, I don't know what to do. Can we please go to the emergency room.”
The ambulance left…without baby Leanna…when the infant's mom returned home, the family took the 2-month-old to the hosptial…but she died later that afternoon.
Few: “She couldn't ask for help herself, so we as parents asked for help and we didn't get any.”
We want to be very clear…we've tried to talk to McDuffie County EMS Director Tim Edwards as well as Doug Keir, the CEO of the McDuffie Regional Medical Center. Both of them said that they did not want to comment on this story. Just in the intrest of full disclosure, I did find out, while doing this story, that one person in the story does work with a relative of mine, but she said that that relationship didn't have anything to do with what she said in her interview…