Archive for Thursday, August 19, 2004

EMS worker claims he was fired illegally

August 19, 2004

While one possible lawsuit is pending, another looms for Leavenworth County's Department of Emergency Medical Services.

In July, former county EMS employee Curt Bigge filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., against the three-member board of county commissioners, EMS director Irene Maley and former assistant EMS director Charles Conrad. The Leavenworth County Commission was set to vote on the contract renewal of Maley Monday afternoon, however, the meeting was postponed because of conflicting schedules.

Bigge claims he was wrongfully fired in Aug. 2002 "in retaliation for his communications with other employees and to the public on matters of public concern," according to the lawsuit. He is seeking undetermined damages, including punitive, as well as costs and attorney's fees.

It's the public's welfare that has also prompted a state medical board to review the procedures used by the county's EMS program. The investigation's committee of the state board of emergency medical services is currently reviewing complaints from a Basehor woman that negligence of EMS attendants contributed to her mother's death.

Tammy Potts has two complaints pending against Leavenworth County EMS and both complaints stem from failures by EMS to transport her mother, Alene Wilson of Basehor, in 2003. The failure to transport Wilson was a factor contributing to her death in December of that year, Potts contends.

While Potts hasn't yet hired an attorney or filed a lawsuit against the county, she is currently reviewing her legal options as well as discussing the matter with attorney's interested in handling the case.

Bigge worked for the county's EMS department for 11 years before he was fired two years ago.

In the spring of 2001, Bigge began meeting with other EMS employees because he'd become "concerned about the administration and operation of the EMS department." The main concerns included the reduction of training for EMS personnel, the rate of personnel turnover, the lack of public education on EMS issues and the lack of training with other EMS and related organizations. "Bigge and other employees believed that the administration and operation of the EMS department was detrimental to public safety and welfare," according to the lawsuit.

Bigge and other employees determined that it was necessary to have the public become aware of their concerns about the EMS department and in the summer of 2002 they prepared a brochure that listed their concerns and was critical of the EMS program.

Bigge's lawsuit claims he was terminated because of his involvement in producing the critical brochure; creation and circulation of that brochure is protected under Bigge's first amendment rights, according to the lawsuit.

"Bigge's speech-related activities involved matters of public concern and his interest in the exercise of his free speech rights outweighed the county's interest in the effective administration of the EMS department," according to the lawsuit.

The county's EMS attendants left Alene Wilson at her Basehor home in Nov. 2002 instead of transporting her to the hospital for treatment of a broken hip. Wilson, who did not possess her full mental capacities, told EMS attendants she did not wish to go to the hospital.

Potts, who possessed durable power of attorney rights for her mother, told attendants to take her mother to the hospital. Paramedics said Wilson was competent to make decisions for herself. A hospital assessment taken the next day indicated Wilson suffered from dementia and hallucinations.

Potts had to transport Wilson to and from the hospital by mini-van. Wilson did not arrive at the hospital until 17 hours after she'd broken her hip, and the delay caused doctors to postpone surgery until Wilson's condition stabilized.

Wilson died three days after being released from the hospital.

As a result of Potts' complaints, the state medical board has asked for an attorney general's opinion on durable power of attorney and guardianship rights.

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