Sources Cite Delay In Aid to Reporter

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 11, 2006

D.C. emergency medical technicians treated David E. Rosenbaum as if he were intoxicated and not the victim of a beating and robbery Friday night, a misdiagnosis that delayed treatment for the longtime journalist, fire department sources said yesterday.

Rosenbaum, 63, a recently retired New York Times reporter and editor, was taking a walk near his home in upper Northwest Washington when he was apparently assaulted and robbed of his wallet, authorities said. Rosenbaum, who was not drunk, died Sunday at Howard University Hospital, authorities said. Police had made no arrests.

Rosenbaum died from blows to the head, body and extremities, according to the D.C. medical examiner's office, which yesterday ruled the case a homicide.

The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is investigating its response to the incident. It is not known whether a quicker response or a more accurate diagnosis would have made any difference, because Rosenbaum's head injury was so severe, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Fire officials declined to comment, saying the entire incident will be reviewed.

New details emerged yesterday about what happened in the first few hours after a neighborhood resident called 911 at 9:30 p.m. Friday seeking help for Rosenbaum, who was found on a sidewalk in the 3800 block of Gramercy Street NW.

Police officers, who arrived quickly after the emergency call, thought Rosenbaum had suffered a medical problem, such as a seizure, officials said. They did not realize he was a crime victim, because he was wearing his watch and wedding band, and a portable radio was resting nearby.

Authorities said they did not learn that Rosenbaum's wallet was missing until he was evaluated at the hospital. And they did not learn Rosenbaum's identity until after 11 p.m., when his wife called police to report that he was missing.

Firefighters, who also are trained as emergency medical technicians, arrived on a firetruck within minutes of the 911 call. But the ambulance, coming from Providence Hospital in Northeast Washington, arrived 22 minutes after the call, and officials were trying to determine why that unit was dispatched and why it took so long.

Four firefighters on the firetruck and the two emergency medical workers on the ambulance thought that Rosenbaum was intoxicated, the sources said. Rosenbaum was disoriented and tried unsuccessfully to get up, police said. There were no apparent signs of major trauma to his head, police and fire officials said. One police official said that only a "small bump" was visible on his head.

Once they got to Howard University Hospital, the ambulance crew members told hospital workers they thought the man had been drinking, the sources said. Rosenbaum went through a triage area in the emergency room but did not appear to have been examined for at least an hour, the sources said. A hospital nurse did not begin to evaluate Rosenbaum until he began vomiting while on a stretcher in a hallway, the sources said.

Only after he was checked by doctors did authorities learn that Rosenbaum had suffered a massive head injury, either from being struck on the head or hitting the ground. Howard University Hospital officials did not immediately respond yesterday to questions about how they handled the incident. A spokeswoman said they were reviewing privacy regulations to determine what they could disclose.

The sources said it does not appear that the emergency medical workers on the firetruck realized that Rosenbaum was badly hurt, because they did not try to summon an advanced life-support ambulance. They also did not tell dispatchers that the incident needed a higher priority, the sources said.

Another fire department source, who also requested anonymity because of the internal investigation, said two ambulances staffed with paramedics were less than 10 minutes from Gramercy Street. They were not dispatched because the call was not given a high enough priority.

The problems also affected the police investigation. It was not until early Saturday that police returned to the neighborhood and searched for evidence and leads.

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