By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City’s emergency medical services squad followed proper procedures when it transported a local resident to the hospital while he was suffering what his wife feared was a possible heart attack, according to the findings of a report released Tuesday.
Police Chief Tom McQuillen, who oversees the city’s public safety operations, concluded that the two EMS members did nothing wrong when they transported the patient by ambulance from Sea Isle to Shore Medical Center in Somers Point.
“It was determined that all applicable policies and procedures were followed and adhered to in this call,” McQuillen said in an interview.
McQuillen and Bruce Knoll, the city’s EMS chief, conducted the investigation after a Sea Isle resident publicly criticized the EMS squad during the Sept. 24 City Council meeting.
The resident, Barbara Crowley, questioned why the EMS crew pulled over at a Garden State Parkway rest stop to wait for a team of paramedics to arrive to give her husband, Michael, an electrocardiogram while he was en route to the hospital.
“They had us wait 15 minutes to do a cardiogram when Shore Memorial was only 15 minutes away,” Barbara Crowley told the Council members on Sept. 24, using the hospital’s former name.
She also said she couldn’t understand why the EMS crew didn’t rush to the hospital at high speed or use the sirens and emergency lights on the ambulance.
On the morning of Aug. 16, Michael Crowley, who has a history of heart trouble, suffered chest pains that the couple feared were the onset of another heart attack. Fortunately, it turned out to be only a health scare.
The Crowleys demanded an investigation of how the EMS squad handled the ambulance trip to the hospital.
While investigating Barbara Crowley’s complaints, McQuillen found that there was no 15-minute delay in transporting her husband to the hospital.
From the time the ambulance left the couple’s Sea Isle home, it took just 12 minutes to get to the hospital, including the stop at the parkway’s Ocean View service plaza to perform the electrocardiogram, McQuillen said.
McQuillen said the actions of the two EMTs were “100 percent” within the proper emergency protocols for transporting patients to the hospital.
“These were two experienced and knowledgeable EMTs on that call,” said McQuillen, who did not release their names.
McQuillen declined to publicly release his entire report, citing medical privacy laws. He did discuss his overall findings and shared excerpts from the report during an interview with SeaIsleNews.com after Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Members of Council have been given copies of McQuillen’s report. Council President J.B. Feeley said the report shows that the EMTs did what they were supposed to while transporting Michael Crowley to the hospital.
“I’m satisfied with the response. It looks like it was handled properly,” Feeley said.
City Business Administrator George Savastano praised the actions of the EMS department, saying that the original SeaIsleNews.com story that quoted Barbara Crowley’s public complaints to Council on Sept. 24 amounted to a “hit job.”
“We did things exactly the way they’re supposed to be done, by the book,” Savastano said during Tuesday’s Council meeting.
Dr. Ken Lavelle, Sea Isle’s medical director, also reviewed Barbara Crowley’s complaints and came to the same conclusion as McQuillen and Knoll that the EMS squad followed proper procedures with Michael Crowley, McQuillen said.
McQuillen also said it was within the EMTs’ discretion not to use the sirens or emergency lights on the ambulance. He said that in this case, the EMTs felt that lights and sirens were not needed.
“There has been a movement in the EMS field that sometimes there’s no benefit to having lights and sirens,” he said.
Skip Kirkwood, a retired New Jersey paramedic and a commissioner with the American College of Paramedic Executives, said he believes the Sea Isle EMS crew performed “flawlessly” while handling Michael Crowley’s medical emergency.
“First, ambulances don’t ‘rush people to hospitals.’ They provide emergency medical care, then safe transportation to an appropriate medical facility,” Kirkwood said in an email to SeaIsleNews.com.
“Most EMS agencies discourage use of lights and sirens during patient transport, and certainly on highways like the Garden State Parkway,” Kirkwood continued. “Ambulances can’t go as fast as cars, and it is dangerous to put on lights and sirens, then (as the law requires) travel more slowly in the fast lane than the non-emergency vehicles on the same highway. Confusing and dangerous.”
Kirkwood also defended the EMTs’ decision to pull over at the parkway rest stop to wait for paramedics to arrive to perform Crowley’s electrocardiogram.
“New Jersey’s two-tiered EMS system also provides hospital-based paramedics, who bring almost all of the capabilities of a hospital to the side of the patient (treatment, not simply a diagnostic EKG),” Kirkwood wrote in his email. “It was perfectly appropriate for the basic life support ambulance to ‘pause’ briefly to bring advanced life support paramedics on board. Those paramedics might have been able to provide lifesaving drugs or other interventions long before arrival at any hospital.”
In 2017, Sea Isle created a city-run professional EMS department to take over ambulance and rescue services. The EMS department was formed after Sea Isle’s volunteer ambulance squad continued to struggle to attract enough members to provide emergency services on a 24-hour basis.