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Denver official calling for review of emergency response to 11-year-old killed in 2016 crash

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Posted at 7:45 PM, Oct 28, 2021

DENVER — Denver’s executive director of public safety is calling for an official review of an emergency response to a severely injured 11-year-old Sheridan girl in the wake of a Denver7 Investigation.

Murphy Robinson, who is also the city’s deputy mayor, responded to details uncovered by Denver7 Investigates from a fatal collision between an SUV and 11-year-old Aundrea Plunkett on May 22, 2016.

Denver Health paramedics transported Aundrea Plunkett 6.6 miles from her home to Denver Health, despite Swedish Medical Center being just over 2 miles away. The trip to Denver Health took more than 17 minutes in rush-hour traffic.

“I will pledge to Aundrea and every other person in the City and County of Denver that I will be reviewing this incident,” Robinson said. “I will be reviewing and making sure that we have paid close attention to how we respond, but also making sure that when we find instances where there can be improvements, I will make those improvements.”

Aundrea Plunkett's mother, Leah Plunkett, spoke exclusively with Denver7 in late September.

“My daughter deserved better,” she said. “She deserved better. She could still be here.”

Leah Plunkett provided dozens of photos showing her daughter’s mangled bike, the damaged SUV and emergency crews trying to save Audrea Plunkett's life on that day now more than five years ago. She wanted people to see what happened as she now tries to understand why transport decisions were made by Denver Health paramedics.

“Two humans made bad decisions that day that took a child from this world,” Leah Plunkett said. “Why did they travel so far with her? Why?”

Family members and police reports say Aundrea Plunkett was riding her bike in front of her Sheridan home when she collided with an SUV.

Body camera video includes audio from a responding a Sheridan police officer telling Leah Plunkett that her daughter most likely would be transported to Swedish Medical Center.

“I wanted to know what took so long for my daughter to get medical care,” Leah Plunkett said. “Why does it take 20 minutes to get somebody lifesaving blood and oxygen to her brain? Every second of that was killing her.”

Hospital reports and body camera video reviewed by Denver7 Investigates confirm that the response time for the ambulance and paramedics to arrive at the crash site was 10 minutes, 16 seconds. That response was a not in compliance with national response standards requiring paramedics to be on scene in 8 minutes, 59 seconds or less.

Although the EMS patient care report showed paramedics spent only 16 seconds attending to Aundrea Plunkett before loading her in the ambulance for the drive to Denver Health, police body camera video shows paramedics spent 5 minutes and 40 seconds attending to her on the scene before she was transported to Denver Health.

According to the patient care report, the ambulance carrying Aundrea Plunkett to Denver Health needed 17 minutes, 28 seconds to drive the 6.6 miles from Sheridan.

“What ultimately took her life was the lack of oxygen to her brain,” Leah Plunkett said. “Why 20 minutes when there’s a hospital five minutes down the street with a trauma center?”

Plunkett's questions surrounding the decision to bypass Swedish for Denver Health were answered by two now former Denver Health paramedics during interviews conducted earlier this year.

Both paramedics spent more than decade working for Denver Health and their statements are consistent with what more than a half dozen paramedics have shared with Denver7 Investigates. All asked to remain anonymous. They all said pressure from upper managers force paramedics to make decisions to bypass closer hospitals and return patients like Aundrea to Denver Health.

“If a transport a patient to Denver Health, no matter what the outcome is, I won’t get second guessed by the medical director,” one paramedic previously told Denver7. “If I transport to another facility it will be scrutinized and reviewed a lot closer.”

RELATED: Denver City Council president demanding answers over Denver Health paramedics' culture

“You will go by other level one trauma centers to go to Denver Health,” another paramedic said. “If not, you were questioned as to why you did not take that patient to Denver Health.”

The culture among Denver Health paramedics has also been questioned by senior leaders at UCHealth.

Emails uncovered earlier this year from UCHealth to Denver Health included questions about more than a dozen transport decisions in the past year.

That list included a gunshot wound victim in Green Valley Ranch and a victim of a serious car crash on I-70 near I-225. In both cases, UCHealth’s Aurora hospital was significantly closer, yet Denver Health paramedics bypassed UCHealth to bring patients to Denver Health.

Dr. Kevin McVaney, medical director for Denver Health Paramedics, previously told Denver7 that he has done nothing wrong and would not change anything about how they handle paramedic care.

The hospital and its CEO declined a request for an on-camera interview to address Aundrea Plunkett’s care and provided a written statement:

“On May 22, 2016 Denver Health Paramedics responded to a call for a critically injured child in south west Denver. Denver Paramedics quickly assessed and transported the child to the most rapidly accessible pediatric trauma center."

"At the time of the incident, the Denver Metro area had two accredited pediatric trauma centers, The Denver Health Pediatric Emergency Department and Children’s Hospital in Aurora. Trauma experts across the country widely agree that children should be taken to designated pediatric trauma centers whenever possible to receive specialized trauma care and potentially increase the chance of survival for critically injured children.

"Denver Health was the most rapidly accessible and most appropriate pediatric trauma center for this child.

"On this occasion and in every emergency medical incident, our priorities are always providing the highest quality care and supporting the loved ones of the patient. Our thoughts are always with the patient and their family.”

However, an email obtained by Denver7 Investigates from a Denver firefighter exposes the frustrations of firefighters with transport decisions made by Denver Health paramedics.

The email was sent just hours after crews returned from responding to Aundrea Plunkett’s emergency call for help. Denver Fire redacted the name of the firefighter who authored the email that included:

  • “Another incident involving Denver Health ambulances passing up Swedish Hospital to take a critical patient to Denver Health.”
  • “The crew was very upset and they stated this keeps happening in Sheridan where they [Denver Health Paramedics] do not go to the closest level one hospital.”
  • “They have stated this is the fourth time they recall something this significant happening.”  

The Denver firefighter’s email obtained by Denver7 was also reviewed by Robinson

“Those emails said we have a very frustrated group of firefighters, who believe something must be reviewed and something must change.” Robinson said.

Denver7 also showed the city’s deputy mayor the body camera video from the day of Aundrea Plunkett’s call for emergency help, as well as the report that detailed the response time to the incident, the drive time to Denver Health and a 16-second entry that inaccurately chronicled the time paramedics worked on Aundrea Plunkett before driving her to Denver Health. He called the incident a “major problem.”

“I think the facts of the video are not reflected in this specific report,” Robinson said.

“She didn’t deserve to die. She was an incredible person,” Leah Plunkett said.

Leah Plunkett also had a message to Denver Health’s CEO Robin Wittenstein.

“I want her to explain her policy. It’s unfair, it’s not right." Plunkett said. “I can’t even explain my emotions right now because, on one hand, I am sad and upset because my baby is not with me. On the other hand, I am raging.”

Two days before this story aired, the hospital did reach out to Aundrea Plunkett’s mom requesting a meeting. Leah Plunkett believes if paramedics had decided to take her daughter to Swedish Medical Center to treat her internal bleeding, that decision may have increased her daughter’s chance of surviving.