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City leaders call for answers, accountability from Denver Health

Denver7 Investigates has been digging into life and death decisions made in the Denver Health paramedics division
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Posted at 9:56 PM, Jan 17, 2022

DENVER — City leaders in two metro areas are calling for answers and greater accountability following a series of eye opening Denver7 Investigations.

Since last July, documents, emails and veteran paramedics have questioned life and death decisions made in the Denver Health paramedics division and, more specifically, the culture of pressure that forces those decisions.

Information uncovered by Denver7 raises questions about why Denver Health ambulances are bypassing closer level one trauma centers to drive longer distances that take more time when transporting critically injured or ill patients.

After more than a half dozen reports, Denver’s mayor and Sheridan’s city manager have come forward demanding both answers and accountability.

“I think it is concerning that we didn’t know about it,” said Devin Granbery, Sheridan city manager.

He was referring to information reported by the Denver7 Investigative team about an emergency call in his city back in 2016.

“She didn’t deserve to die,” said Leah Plunkett, the mother of 11-year-old Aundrea Plunkett.

Her daughter was riding her bike when she was struck by an SUV. She had serious internal injuries and needed to get to a trauma center as soon as possible.

RELATED: Denver7 Investigates | Aundrea's Final Ride: A culture in question

Records obtained by Denver7 and an email sent by a Denver firefighter raise questions about the paramedic’s decision that day to bypass Swedish Medical Center, which was 2.2 miles away. Instead, the ambulance drove 6.6 miles, taking more than 17 minutes for Aundrea Plunkett to receive care in an emergency room.

“I think what was most concerning possibly to the mayor and city council [of Sheridan] was why did they go to Denver Health when Swedish was right down the street?” Granbery said. “We will be looking into this in conjunction with Mayor Hancock’s office and making sure the issues get addressed."

In prior Denver7 reports, veteran paramedics asked for the same kind of answers and accountability.

“The culture needs to change,” one paramedic said.

“It needs to be investigated,” said another former paramedic with more than a decade of experience at Denver Health.

“If there’s concern of EMTs being ordered to bypass other urgent care centers or a slow response, I think we ought to know that and work to improve it as quickly as possible,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.

He’s asked the city’s nominee for executive director of public safety to review the information uncovered by the Denver7 Investigative team along with documents the city provided through state open records provisions.

“I am really going to look at how we are putting oversight on that process,” said Armando Saldate, the city’s nominee for public safety executive director. “To make sure that thinks like this don’t happen.”

“Let’s take a look at it and let’s get better. Let’s improve services for the people,” Hancock said.

Denver Health has repeatedly said it has done nothing wrong. Also, the hospital has not announced any changes to the culture inside the paramedic’s division.

Denver Health Chief Executive Officer Robin Wittenstein has declined numerous requests to answer questions by Denver7 Investigates. Late last week, Wittenstein did announce her decision to retire later this year.