D.C. to Probe EMS Response To Fatal Attack

By Allan Lengel and Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 19, 2006

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams called yesterday for an independent review of the emergency medical response after New York Times editor David E. Rosenbaum was robbed and fatally assaulted in his upper Northwest Washington neighborhood.

"A top to bottom review of this incident, by an independent source, is necessary to answer the questions that have been posed in the wake of [this] tragic death," Williams (D) said in a statement. The D.C. inspector general's office will conduct the investigation.

The announcement came hours after the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department announced plans to improve the way its emergency medical workers respond.

The Rosenbaum case triggered concerns over the response time of the ambulance and the quality of emergency medical treatment at the scene. Many also asked why Rosenbaum was transported to Howard University Hospital instead of a closer facility.

Rosenbaum, 63, was taking an after-dinner walk shortly after 9 p.m. Jan. 6 when he was robbed and struck on the head and body with what police now believe was a steel pipe. Rosenbaum had retired about a week earlier after serving as a reporter and editor at the Times for more than 30 years. About a week after the attack, two men were charged in the slaying.

An ambulance dispatched from Providence Hospital in Northeast Washington took 23 minutes to respond to the call for help in the 3800 block of Gramercy Street, raising questions as to whether there was a closer unit. The department aims for a response time of 10 minutes or less.

Once at the scene, emergency medical workers who evaluated Rosenbaum thought he might be drunk and deemed it a low-priority run.

The emergency workers transported Rosenbaum to Howard University Hospital, which is about two miles farther than Sibley Memorial Hospital in Northwest Washington. The trip took 25 minutes.

At Howard, Rosenbaum was left on a stretcher in a hallway and not examined for an hour, until he began vomiting. Doctors then determined that he had a massive head injury.

After an internal review, Adrian H. Thompson, chief of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, concluded last week that his workers had taken "appropriate measures" and "met all standards of care."

Still, he welcomed the announcement of the independent review.

"The Fire and EMS Department provides critical services to people in the District of Columbia," he said in a statement issued last night. "They must be confident in the services we provide."

Under the changes announced yesterday by Thompson's department, an emergency medical supervisor at the 911 center will be required to shuffle ambulances and crews to short-staffed areas of the city, said Alan Etter, a department spokesman.

The changes also are intended to give ambulance crews more guidance in deciding which hospital a patient should be transported to, Etter said.

In addition, the plan calls for better communication between dispatchers and emergency medical workers on the street and for a modification of the department's computer-aided dispatch system so a global positioning satellite can track more emergency medical vehicles.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company