Two Philadelphia paramedics have been suspended for two days following a 2 1/2-month investigation into an incident in which a pregnant woman in their care died. Now family members are wondering if incompetence and problems with the city’s 911 system played a role in her death.
On Oct. 1, 2012, the paramedics responded to a 911 emergency in Philadelphia. Joanne Rodriguez, 24, was 9 months pregnant and having trouble breathing when she fell down the stairs at her home. The family says she was asthmatic and on medication for a blood clot.
"I told her (dispatcher) she fell down the steps, she's 37 weeks pregnant, she's hurt, and she's lying down,” said Joanne’s aunt, Carmen Morales. “I told her she was responsive but couldn’t breathe.”
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Her family says Medic 22 took three minutes to get from the firehouse to their home. Surveillance video from the family home shows the medics walking into the house without any medical equipment.
"They start looking at my niece and say 'OK ma'am I need you to sit up,'” said Morales. “My niece is telling them, 'Please, I can't breathe, I'm weak, I can't move,' and she was like, 'You need to do your part.' The EMT is telling her she needs to do her part.”
According to that surveillance video, it took eight minutes for the medics to bring Rodriguez out of the home and another minute before the emergency workers gave her any oxygen.
"We want to give people oxygen if they're having difficulty breathing immediately and that's one of the things we are looking at as well," said Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.
After Rodriguez was loaded into the ambulance, surveillance video shows it took another seven minutes for the ambulance to leave for Temple University Hospital. Rodriguez's mother rode inside the ambulance with her daughter.
A Fire Department investigation has found it was a total of 20 minutes from the time the medics arrived at the family's house, until reaching Temple University Hospital.
Commissioner Ayers told NBC10 last year that the medics immediately realized the ambulance doors were stuck.
"The EMT says 'Oh my God',” said Morales. “Her heart stops beating, that's when they arrive to the hospital. The other EMT goes around to open the doors, they can't open the doors, the doors are stuck.”
Her aunt says the medics tried to get the door open from the inside and outside and it wasn't until an officer from Temple University Hospital came out to help that they got the doors open.
The Fire Department investigation found that Rodriguez was stuck for about three and a half minutes, during which a doctor was able to get inside the ambulance through a side door and start working on her. Rodriguez died before they could get her inside.
Autopsy results found she died of natural causes. Rodriguez's baby was delivered in an emergency cesarean section.
Her family believes Joanne would still be alive if she had received the urgent care she needed.
"If they would have came here better trained, with all their equipment, oxygen on time, yes, she would have been maybe in the hospital still, but alive," said Morales.
NBC10’s initial report last year triggered a 2 1/2-month internal investigation. On Tuesday, Bill Gault, the President of Firefighter’s Union Local 22 announced that both paramedics involved in the incident have been suspended for two days.
NBC10 filed a request for the 911 tapes and the incident printout patient care report under the “Right to Know” act. The city denied both requests. City officials say 911 tapes, by state law, are exempt from disclosure. They also say they can’t release the incident printout or patient care report because of patient confidentiality.
The Rodriguez family says they are “disappointed” with the city’s decision to not release the 911 recording. They also say they made similar requests which were also denied.
NBC10 also reached out to Fire Commissioner Ayres on Tuesday for further comment but he declined, claiming he can’t comment because the family is suing the city.