Denver’s mayor is promising major changes to the culture and practices within the paramedic division at Denver Health Medical Center after more than a year of reports from Denver7 Investigates.
“We have got to fix this,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told Denver7 Investigates in an exclusive interview. “We have got to improve the entire system.”
Since July 2021, Denver7 Investigates has aired more than a dozen stories exposing a questionable culture within Denver Health’s paramedic division.
A series of interviews with some current and former paramedics has revealed that paramedics were pressured to bypass closer Level One trauma centers to bring critical patients back to Denver Health. Some paramedics said they were questioned and scrutinized for taking patients to other, closer hospitals instead of Denver Health.
Earlier this year, sources with the Denver Fire Department led Denver7 Investigates to emails showcasing delays in response times from Denver Health paramedics that left firefighters waiting to help treat patients. They also provided a database that showed significant wait times for firefighters on scene before an ambulance could arrive. In some instances, firefighters waited 20, 30 or and in some cases more than 40 minutes.
“This is not OK,” Hancock said. “Nobody deserves to be in pain or to see their loved one die when they know we could have saved them.”
Denver7 Investigates also found radio communications showing that no ambulances were available on multiple emergencies.
“The people of Denver are not getting the service they think they are getting,” former Denver firefighter Kevin Apuron previously told Denver7 Investigates.
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Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton also expressed frustration in how the system is currently working between Denver Health and Denver Fire for emergency paramedic calls.
“I want it changed as soon as possible,” he said.
Hancock sympathized with Fulton and other firefighters who spoke out.
“It’s painful to watch,” Hancock said. “I feel for the families, I feel for the firefighters that I know want to do their very best.”
Hancock said the city has been working on issues for more than 10 years, but that things have regressed.
“I’ve not been shy about concerns about response times and about what we believe we need to do,” Hancock said.
Hancock’s team is currently in contract negotiations with the leadership of Denver Health on a new contract and stresses that the new deal will bring major changes to how the city manages emergency calls, including allowing firefighters to provide more life-saving assistance.
“Our firefighters have a desire to play a greater role to help save people,” Hancock said. “We’ve got to enable that... We want to share in the responsibility to save lives. It’s a big deal.”
He also said what has been exposed is not acceptable and will not be accepted moving forward.
“If you are talking about the late responses, or choosing the right emergency room for the best care, the quickest care, none of that’s acceptable today,” Hancock said. “So we are going to do our very best to make sure that we limit those types of tough decisions and wrong decisions in the future.”
Sources tell Denver7 Investigates that some changes could include Denver Fire hiring its own medical director. That change would likely allow firefighters to provide advanced life support when they arrive before paramedics. Hancock said he would like to have this resolved by the end of the year.
Denver Health CEO Robin Wittenstein also sat down with Denver7 Investigates. Click here to watch.