Some time ago I worked for a service that had a governing board made up of community members from various walks of life. Most of them were business leaders around the area and only one or two of them had any EMS experience. One day I overheard one of the board members talking about problems he was having with the quality control at a factory his company ran in another area.
I was fascinated.
It seems that the workers at this factory just didn’t seem to care about the quality of the product they created. Products came out with grievous manufacturing errors that turned a lot of their finished products into unsellable junk. He described these errors as things that any reasonable person would notice had they spent more than one day on the job.
Joining in the conversation, I asked him “So, how much does the average worker at that factory get paid?”
He replied with a wage that was actually above my hourly rate as a paramedic. It was significantly more, actually.
It shocked him when I said “So they make that much more than I do, and when I make a mistake someone dies and my career is over? That doesn’t seem right at all”
And no, it doesn’t seem right. Every human being on this planet is going to screw something up on occasion. We’re not perfect. Medical professionals and especially EMS people are constantly challenged to adapt their knowledge to unfamiliar situations with incomplete information. On top of that, the body of our knowledge is constantly changing and it’s up to us to know exactly how to seek it out so we’re consistently doing the best for our patients. It’s not easy to be a good EMT or Paramedic and it’s a responsibility that we’re largely not well-paid for. Top that with the fact that even one simple mistake can be a career ender and…
You get this article that I saw this morning in JEMS: Tennessee Paramedic Demoted after Drug Mistake
If you’ve been a paramedic in the field for any length of time and this article doesn’t scare you, you’ve not been much of a paramedic for any length of time. This is real folks. This is something we all should sit up and take notice to.
The article concerns a paramedic who made a medication error. While it doesn’t state what error he made, it seems that he had mixed a medication in a bag of normal saline and infused it to a patient while intending to give a different medication. The article doesn’t specify the medications given but from the patient’s condition an educated person may be able to infer what they were. It also specifically does not mention the condition of the patient before or after the medication was given, leading me to believe that the patient suffered only minor ill. Yes, I know that I’m assuming… but you can’t tell me that the newspaper wouldn’t have been more than happy to blast the headline “MAN DIES AFTER MEDIC POISONS HIM WITH WRONG MEDICATION” if he had died. My guess is that if they downplayed his condition, there wasn’t much to sensationalize about it.
The medic, who had been with the service for 9 years and who had only been disciplined once in that time for missing something on a rig check, had received “above average performance reviews” and more than one commendation in his tenure.
From reading the article, it looks like an experienced medic made an honest mistake. He was reprimanded for it, suspended for 28 days, and demoted to an EMT.
Yeah, you read that right. They voided 3 years of education that this man had completed and knocked his license all the way to EMT-Basic.
They did this for one mistake. One mistake that even the medic’s chief stated was “… accidental and an oversight on his (the medic’s) part”. An honest mistake that everyone reading this article has already made or will probably make in their career. A mistake that was apparently easy to make, even by an experienced paramedic that most probably did not result in grievous harm to anyone.
If the facts truly are as reported in the article and there are no other unreported wrinkles to this case, I call shenanigans. The discipline this medic received simply does not fit the crime. It’s too heavy-handed. The discipline seems arbitrary, unnecessary, and patently unfair.
The chief was quoted in the article as saying that their agency, which is reported as responding to around 29,000 emergency calls each year, has a “success ratio” of “100%” and that “this is not the norm.”
Pictured: Every Paramedic
So he’s saying that the all of the EMTs and Paramedics that must handle 29,000 emergency calls per year are expected to be 100% perfect 100% of the time or he will negate their education, harm their lifetime income potential, and defame them in the national press? I know that he probably didn’t *intend* to say that… but he very much did say it. I know of no other single profession that has so much at stake every time they go to work. To my knowledge, no other profession has so much risk of long term harm to their lives, their family, and their professional career riding on a very much unrealistic goal of being 100% perfect 100% of the time. It’s shockingly unfair… and terrifying. No human being can maintain those expectations. We’re just not able to always be perfect all of the time for an entire career.
And when you think that the pay for Paramedics and EMTs in this country is by and large pathetically low, you might wonder why anyone would ever consider doing the job at all.
I’ll say again, if the facts in this case are accurate and complete as reported, this is an outrage. It’s an abomination. It’s enough to generate national attention about the unfair working conditions and haphazard disciplinary standards that EMS must endure.
I’ll say this too: I support this paramedic and formally place a letter in the file of the agency responsible for doing this to him.
(This part is for Google) If you work for WRCB TV in Tennessee, please feel free to consider this my opinion.
(You can find the original article HERE: http://www.wrcbtv.com/story/15463233/ems-used-wrong-iv-in-melvin-davis-transport)