The recent news that more than 200 EMTs in Massachusetts fraudulently obtained re-certification revealed serious safety lapses in the system. We applaud the state’s swift move to suspend the EMT licenses and call on the Department of Public Health (DPH) to closely monitor future re-certifications.
An anonymous caller tipped off DPH officials to the EMT scandal when she reported an EMT-paramedic for a private ambulance company had received re-certification without attending the required classes. When state officials investigated, they learned the fraud ran much deeper, touching more than 200 EMTs throughout the state.
The impacted fire departments include Haverhill, Boston, Lexington and Belmont among others. Haverhill had 30 EMT licenses suspended while Boston had 21.
The abuse was most rampant among private ambulance companies. Armstrong Ambulance of Arlington had 41 EMTs working with fraudulent certification while Trinity EMS had 35 EMTs and Cataldo Ambulance of Melrose had 46 EMTs, according to media reports. For Cataldo, the majority of the involved EMTs came from the company’s Atlantic Ambulance Service division on the North Shore.
The state suspended most of the EMT licenses for 90 days to nine months. Lexington firefighter Mark Culleton and former Trinity Ambulance paramedic Leo Nault, the instructors involved in the fraud, have been permanently banned from practicing in Massachusetts.
Emergency medical technicians in Massachusetts are required to undergo between 24 and 36 hours of retraining every two years. The training serves as a refresher course and updates EMTs on new medications, techniques and equipment.
“This ongoing training is critical for EMTs because they are called upon to make life and death medical decisions in the field,” said Boston medical malpractice lawyer Marc Breakstone. “The Department of Public Health must maintain a zero tolerance policy towards any fraud or misrepresentation regarding the training and qualifications of the front-line medical providers.”
In 2001, Breakstone negotiated a $10.2 million settlement for a Massachusetts family whose toddler was left severely brain-damaged by paramedic negligence. There were significant delays in the care. The ambulance crew got lost on the way to the home, forgot the keys to their medical cabinet and later falsified records in an attempt to hide the medical negligence. As a result of that case, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health established guidelines that made reporting of serious medical errors by EMTs mandatory.
For more information, see these articles from The Boston Globe: “Phone Tip Led to EMT Card Scam” and “State Officials Examining EMT Retraining System”