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Another former Denver Health paramedic comes forward to discuss culture issues

Medic says she was questioned about why she took trauma patients to closer hospitals over Denver Health
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Posted at 9:49 PM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-20 01:02:27-05

DENVER — A third former Denver Health paramedic has come forward and is telling Denver7 Investigates on camera that she was also pressured to bypass closer level one trauma centers and bring critically injured patients back to Denver Health.

The paramedic recalled one particular issue where a manager questioned her decision to take a gunshot victim in southeast Denver to Swedish Medical Center instead of Denver Health.

She said that pressure affected future decisions.

“I became that ‘yes’ person for the company. Did everything for them according to what they wanted,” said the paramedic, who spoke to Denver7 on the condition that her name not be used. Her face and voice were also disguised on camera.

The paramedic said she was once proud to be a member of one of the most prestigious paramedic divisions in the country.

“Everybody wants to work for Denver Health,” she said.

But she added that while she “drank the Kool-Aid” during her tenure, it was also not a healthy environment, which is why she left the job. She still works as a paramedic for another agency.

She decided to come forward after seeing previous Denver7 Investigates stories regarding the culture at Denver Health in the paramedic division that highlighted multiple examples of medics bringing high-level trauma patients to Denver Health over closer level-one trauma centers.

The paramedic said she saw the recent report on 11-year-old Aundrea Plunkett, who was hit by a car while riding her bike in 2016 in Sheridan. Denver Health paramedics elected to take Aundrea to Denver Health, a trip that took roughly 17 minutes during rush-hour traffic, instead of Swedish Medical Center, which was just 2.2 miles away. Denver Health was more than 6 miles away.

In that story, Aundrea Plunkett’s mother, Leah Plunkett, said she felt the paramedics made a poor decision. Her daughter later died from her injuries.

The paramedic said she felt for the paramedics she saw on body-worn camera video from Sheridan Police obtained by Denver7 Investigates.

“They were doing exactly what they’ve been taught and told to do,” she said. “And I know for sure had they not done that, they would have gotten a talking to.”

In the body-worn camera video, a first responder can be heard asking paramedics if they are taking Aundrea Plunkett to Swedish, but the paramedic responds that they are going to Denver Health.

She said she is saddened that they’re put in the position of determining what is best for Denver Health rather than what is best for the patient.

This paramedic is the third to speak with Denver7 Investigates on camera and one of nearly 10 overall. The previous two in on-camera interviews also said they knew that if they did not bring a level one trauma patient to Denver Health, they would be questioned.

Dr. Kevin McVaney, medical director of Denver Health paramedics, spoke to Denver7 Investigates in July and stated that he would not change anything about how they equip and take care of trauma patients.

“I’m deeply disappointed if any of our paramedics thought that our goal was anything other than how to best take care of our patients,” McVaney said.

The hospital has not announced any policy or procedure changes and has denied multiple requests for interviews since July to respond to new information uncovered by Denver7 Investigates.

The paramedic, however, disputed McVaney’s claim that the department is acting in the best interest of patients.

“What he said was he had done nothing wrong and in his mind, that’s what he believes,” she said. “But I don’t think that’s right.”

In denying Denver7 Investigates’ most recent interview request with McVaney and CEO Robin Wittenstein, the hospital issued a statement that said:

"Since there appears to be nothing new you are covering in this upcoming story, we are not able to give you an additional interview. We already provided an interview that explained our paramedics are instructed to follow RETAC (Regional Emergency Medical and Trauma Services Advisory Councils) guidelines to transport patients to the most rapidly accessible, appropriate trauma center. In the case of an injured child, that would mean transporting the patient to a pediatric trauma center.

"The number one objective for our paramedics is what is in the best interest of the patient. Denver Health Paramedics are here to serve the people of the city and county of Denver. They are highly trained, experienced professionals committed to patient safety.

"Additionally, our entire organization is currently focused on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent spike in cases, limited hospital capacity and the on-going need to get people vaccinated including our community’s young children.

"We expect that Denver’s 7 (sic) will be objective in its reporting and not misrepresent what has been clearly and directly communicated."

Denver Deputy Mayor Murphy Robinson also previously told Denver7 that he is reviewing the information reported by Denver7 Investigates.