IMAGE: Lukas Ketner
BY NIGEL JAQUISS | njaquiss at wweek dot com
[May 21st, 2008]
What happens when a paramedic gets caught using drugs, loses his driver’s license twice, and fails to tell his employer about his violations of company rules?
Not much, to judge by the case of American Medical Response employee David Mull, licensed as a paramedic in Oregon since 1994. Mull, 37, of Portland, remains one of about 14 paramedics on AMR’s high-profile “Reach and Treat” team, which handles calls in the Mount Hood Wilderness and the Columbia River Gorge.
Last October, the Oregon Department of Human Services, which certifies the state’s 8,000-plus paramedics, put Mull on probation for “providing false information on an application; unprofessional conduct; habitual and excessive use of intoxicants; and failing to notify the Department of a loss or restriction of driving privileges.”
Mull admitted to the allegations, which included “using marijuana several times a week for the past three to four years and cocaine over the last three months.” He also acknowledged failing to notify the Human Services Department or his employer that the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicles Division had suspended his license for four days in March 2006 and again in August 2006 for nearly an 11-month stretch.
A suspended license is big deal for a paramedic. Typically, say industry sources, two-person teams split the driving on ambulances. In other words, for nearly a year, Mull either drove illegally or didn’t carry his weight on the 12-hour shifts.
Mull’s supervisor, Phil Moyer, Clackamas County operations manager for AMR, declined to answer WW’s questions, citing company policy against discussing personnel matters.
But Moyer didn’t seem overly concerned about Mull’s deception, according to a letter Moyer wrote Nov. 26, 2007—after Mull’s admissions to state regulators.
"Dave continues to be a valuable, dedicated and contributing employee in the Clackamas County operations team,” Moyer wrote a lawyer representing Mull in a divorce proceeding. “There are no restrictions that have been placed on him by the AMR medical director.”
Since AMR won’t comment, it’s impossible to know whether the second sentence is true. But Moyer’s letter failed to mention that the DHS only a month earlier had placed Mull on five years’ probation and ordered him to abstain from alcohol and drugs, enroll in a 12-step program and submit to monthly random drug tests.
Mull’s case isn’t the only troubling one on AMR’s “Reach and Treat” team. AMR paramedic Joshua Keyes of Portland, licensed in Oregon since 2001, also admitted to “providing false information on an application; unprofessional conduct; and habitual and excessive use of intoxicants.” Keyes admitted using marijuana over the past five years and cocaine over the past six months.
In October, DHS put Keyes on probation for two years.
Robert Leopold, DHS’s director of EMS and trauma systems, says such problems are rare, with only 18 of 8,569 state-certified EMTs and paramedics now on probation.
Leopold says both AMR paramedics were put on probation rather than decertified because their substance abuse occurred during off-duty hours. And the agency believes close monitoring works better than revocation because paramedics who lose their certification are free to apply again within two years.
Still, Leopold says AMR and its employees should understand the agency is unhappy.
“If someone calls 9-1-1, we want the person who responds to be competent and trustworthy,” he adds.