CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A Cincinnati 911 call taker is being investigated and suspended after “serious neglect of duty” and violating “multiple established” procedures during a call about a man who died in January from a stroke, city officials confirmed Monday.
“What took place on the night of Jan. 12 is nothing short of a tragedy,” City Manager Patrick Duhaney said in an email to City Council members and Mayor John Cranley. “It’s unclear if the individual would have lived or died, but the actions of this call-taker undermined the possibility of a positive outcome in this situation.”
The announcement Monday came after FOX19 NOW asked about the case last week. We requested interviews with city and police officials as well as dozens of public records related to it, including all 911 calls, radio traffic and the call taker’s personnel file and discipline.
According to the city manager’s email, a man living at an apartment building on Groesbeck Road called 911 the night of Jan. 12 to report that one of his neighbors appeared to have suffered a stroke.
The caller was not with the patient at the time – he was in a different apartment, on a different floor. The call taker attempted to direct the caller to go to the patient so he could be asked questions, and the caller indicated the patient might not want to answer questions or want help, he wrote.
The caller told the call-taker, according to Duhaney’s letter:
- “He is getting worse and worse”
- “This is an emergency.”
- “He’s had a stroke.”
- “He has a stroke and has another one coming. He’s gonna die.”
- “He’s going to die here.”
Over a nearly eight-minute call, the call taker went back and forth with the caller, telling him “we can’t force ourselves on him” and “if he doesn’t want help, they won’t do anything. He has to want to be helped," Duhaney wrote.
The man was told by the call taker that “there is nothing the Fire Department or police officers can do. They can’t force themselves on him.”
Eventually, the caller hung up. The call taker closed the call, no help was sent, the letter states.
The next day another 911 call was received from the same apartment complex. The caller indicated that the individual who suffered the medical emergency the previous night had passed away.
They also requested assistance with removal of the body because we “wouldn’t come and help yesterday," according to Duhaney’s memo.
“ECC leadership initiated a complete and thorough investigation of the matter as soon as they became aware of the incident. It was determined that by 45 seconds into the call, the call-taker had been provided a good, dispatchable location, and had been told someone is having a stroke," he wrote.
"Yet, they did not initiate an Emergency Medical Services response. Emergency Medical Dispatcher training explicitly states that a subject experiencing what appears to be a “Stroke must receive an immediate response that is not subject to delay.” His memo states that in total the call-taker violated multiple established and written ECC processes and procedures.
“Like all call-takers, this individual had taken various required trainings on these processes and should have taken a more appropriate course of action. The call-taker was suspended with pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary process detailed in the Collective Bargaining agreement," Duhaney wrote.
“It’s unclear if the individual would have lived or died, but the actions of this call-taker undermined the possibility of a positive outcome in this situation. "
This is the latest controversy over how Cincinnati 911 center handles calls for help.
It also comes as city attorneys fight a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, its former city manager, two police officers, and two 911 call takers over the death of Kyle Plush. The suit alleges the city and several people are at fault in the April 2018 death of the 16-year-old boy.
Now comes Duhaney’s disclosure about the response to a 911 call in College Hill earlier this year.
Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman called it a “setback.”
“It’s definitely a setback,” he said. “We hope we don’t have to make a policy for every little thing. If you are a call taker and someone dispatches for services, you send them."
Al Gerhardstein, the attorney representing the Plush family, said it is “chilling and outrageous to see another call taker ignore a plea for help on behalf of another dying victim.
"We hoped through the Plush lawsuit to help prevent these events but the City is seeking to dismiss our whole effort to hold call takers and others accountable. I have been in touch with the Plush family and I assure you they are in pain all over again. None of these public servants should be above the law. Kyle Plush and this unfortunate stroke victim deserved a competent, prompt and effective response to the 911 calls. They should both be alive today.”
The city manager said in his email to council and the mayor "though missteps took place in this instance, I do not want it to overshadow the amazing, difficult work that our call-takers, dispatchers, and emergency communications team perform every day.
"In fact, there were three 911 calls regarding the same patient in the preceding days of the call that occurred on the night of January 12, 2020. ECC call-takers entered an incident to be dispatched to first responders on the first three calls, and first responders were able to evaluate and respond to the patient.
"911 call takers often thankless jobs and it’s unfortunate that the light shines brightly on them when situations like this occur.
"I hope that none of us will allow the amazing day-to-day work and continued progress made at the ECC to be overshadowed or tarnished by the inaction of one individual.”
Gerhardstein questioned why the city didn’t disclose the incident sooner.
“Unfortunately the City Manager letter is more about damage control than the assurance that all call takers and dispatchers will be held accountable," he said. "Why are we learning about this six weeks after it happened? Has the call-taker been on paid leave this whole time? The residents of Cincinnati deserve much better 911 service than what Kyle and this stroke victim received. “
The 911 center, traditionally run by the police department, has been moved from civilian to police control and back again. It also has struggled with staffing problems, inadequate training, and cellphone call routing leaving some calls unanswered.
The Kyle Plush lawsuit alleges the city knew about previous complaints regarding the police department’s ECC failing to locate callers and delaying dispatch in response to emergency calls.
The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office reviewed Kyle’s death. Prosecutor Joe Deters announced in November 2018 no charges would be filed.
City Council promptly took action following Kyle’s death, retaining two independent firms to review the case and they made sweeping changes to emergency response procedures.
They held a series of public meetings during a public inquiry, hours-long sessions as Plush’s family patiently sat through as they sought answers.
The Plushes returned for more meetings that would follow over the coming months but ultimately said they were still seeking answers.
They publicly supported council’s approval of $454,000 to increase 911 staff and to improve technology at the 911 center as part of a 12-month action plan.
The city launched a new system called Smart911 designed to make it easier for first responders to find 911 callers in an emergency.
Once people register for it, their emergency information will automatically be displayed to call takers when they dial 911.