RIALTO, Calif - The city of Rialto is investigating paramedics who allegedly refused to enter a care facility to help a man who wasn't breathing, citing a COVID-19 guideline that doesn't seem to be in effect.
The 911 call came from the Rialto Post Acute Care Center at about 7:50 p.m. on Nov. 11. Video obtained by FOX 11 from a Rialto police officer's body camera shows two Rialto Fire responders at the open door of the center, wearing masks, but not entering.
The officer walks in and his exchange with center personnel is clear. As he walked down the hallway, he tried to explain to them that the paramedics were not coming in because of some "state COVID" guideline. Inside the patient’s room, a registered nurse was on top of him, administering CPR, with the help of other certified nursing assistants at her side. It seemed they couldn't move the man’s bed, because it had no wheels.
That’s when the officer got behind the bed and began to push. With the help of the personnel, the nurse still on top of the man, they steered the bed down the hallways. At one point, you hear him telling the clearly exhausted nurse that she is doing a great job and not to stop.
They made it through the front door, to the waiting paramedics, who eventually took over the CPR. There was clearly some frustration in the exchange between the staff and the paramedic in charge, as they talked about the patient, who has been identified as 56-year-old Joseph Angulo. He was transported to a local hospital but did not survive.
"It is difficult to watch the tape," said Rialto Mayor Pro Tem Ed Scott, who received a complaint from a staff member at the center and reported it to the City Attorney. "It is particularly difficult," he explained, because this is such a well-regarded Fire Department, known for its community outreach.
The San Bernardino County Chapter of the Emergency Medical Services Authority had similar things to say. Sergy El More-Shedy from the state EMSA sent FOX 11 the following statement:
"Upon acceptance of a call assignment, California paramedics cannot refuse service (i.e., assessment, treatment, transport) unless directed by law enforcement or if the scene is unsafe. Local protocols may change instructions for the conditions to assess, treat, and/or transport."
The county office says they have no guidelines that are any different, saying they were also surprised that Rialto was the focus of the complaint. Rialto city officials, who have launched an investigation, say there may have been some restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic, but none at this point.
An April 2020 memo from the San Bernardino County Fire Chief’s Association said:
"Personnel responding to long-term care facilities …. Should consider the following to minimize any potential risk for exposure:
All dispatch centers will be requesting the facilities to move patients to the door or outside the location…"
But the memo also includes that:
"If [the] patient cannot be transferred to exit for or outside prior to arrival, one member of Fire/EMS personnel should initially interact with the patient" and goes on to explain the type of Personal Protective Gear (PPE) that is advisable."
In a statement, Rialto’s Acting Fire Chief Brain Park said that the paramedics have been placed on leave pending a third-party investigation and that he would ensure the independence of that investigation.
Rialto Mayor Deborah Robertson, addressed Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, promising an independent investigation as well. The statement from the city does not include her clearly emotional words at the meeting, expressing condolences to Angulo’s family, who was notified about the ongoing investigation. They were not at the meeting.
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