Cashing In for Change

Monday, March 12, 2007

ALL ALONG, the family of slain journalist David E. Rosenbaum said that the only thing it wanted was fixes to an emergency medical system that so bungled the care of the 63-year-old Northwest man. That now may happen. If so, much of the credit will belong to this remarkable family and its decision to walk away from a lawsuit that probably would have resulted in an award of millions of dollars.

In return for the Rosenbaums dropping their $20 million lawsuit, the District has agreed to establish a task force that will come up with recommendations to improve how emergency services are delivered. Combined with last week's announcement of a new chief for the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, prospects for change in this troubled agency have gotten considerably better. Problems in the system were made notorious by the 2006 death of Mr. Rosenbaum, victim both of a mugger who smashed his head with a pipe and of ambulance and hospital workers who treated him with incompetence and indifference.

Any lawyer will tell you that the Rosenbaums -- armed with a report from the city's inspector general that buttressed their claims -- had a solid case. Dropping it is something that their lawyer says he has never seen. "We thought this was the right thing to do," said Marcus Rosenbaum, brother of David Rosenbaum, explaining that members of the family live in the city, love it and want to make it safe.

The settlement would not have come about without the efforts of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). Even before he took office, he reached out to the family with an apology and a promise to do better. That Mr. Fenty never asked family members to drop their lawsuit, only to work with him, impressed them and prompted them to make the unusual offer. Officials at Howard University Hospital might want to take note. It's still being sued because the family claims that hospital officials showed no interest in cooperating for change.

A member of the Rosenbaum family will sit on the task force, and, if the city doesn't follow through with meaningful reform, the family will have the option to go back to court. That's not just in their interest, but the public's.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company