Documents show why the State suspended Onondaga County's paramedic training program

CNY Central's Jim Kenyon has obtained the results of the NYS Health Department investigation which led to the suspension of Onondaga County's paramedic training program. Under the Freedom of Information Law, Onondaga County fulfilled Kenyon's request for the "Statement of Deficiencies" issued by the Health Department following an audit of the county's sponsorship of a refresher course that paramedics must complete in order to maintain their state certification to conduct "advanced life support" on patients.

On July 8th, when CNY Central broke the story, County Emergency Management Commissioner Kevin Wisely characterized the problem as "deficiencies in our paperwork", but the statement of deficiencies shows a number of problems beyond paperwork and explains why it determined the refresher course did not meet "minimum requirements for certification" of paramedics. After ordering the suspension of Onondaga County's program, the Health Department ordered 35 paramedics to retake the Practical Skills Exam in which the paramedics demonstrate advanced life support techniques.

Among other things the Health Department found possible fraud in the final exam in that 2 paramedics were listed as passing the exam even though they were not even present for it.

It also found:

--students evaluated other students

--a session was held at Rural/Metro ambulance at a time when the state had placed the ambulance service's paramedic program on probation

--inadequate facilities for the skills exam

--improper evaluators were used to assess the paramedicâ??s skills

--one evaluator was not state certified

It turns out that Onondaga County had an armâ??s length responsibility for recertifying the paramedics. Wisely told Kenyon the county hired the training director at Rural/Metro ambulance service as the course instructor. At a time, Wisely said he did not know the Health Department had placed Rural/Metro's internal paramedic recertification program on probation after a similar audit in 2013. He did confirm however that he was aware of CNY Central's reporting of Rural/Metro's problems with the state.

A spokesperson for Rural/Metro has referred all questions to Onondaga County saying the course suspended by the state was a county sponsored course.

The Health Department's action against Onondaga County has reverberated among providers of emergency medical services throughout the region.

In a webcast of the July 15 meeting of the Regional Emergency Medical Service Council, Onondaga County's coordinator Tony DiGregorio assured the paramedics in the class that has been disqualified. "One thing I want to make clear...any student that was in that ALS course did nothing wrong." DiGregorio said speaking directly to the camera.

During the meeting the head of TLC ambulance, Lon Fricano defended the county role and voiced his anger over the situation and Rural/Metro's alleged involvement. "I know in my heart of hearts Onondaga County and Tony DiGregorio would never do anything that's wrong...We as a council have a responsibility that we and the state do its job to make sure nothing like this can happen again with people who are repeat offenders in this way. This is a travesty."

The council decided to contact the State Health Department in hopes of convincing it to back off on a threat to take action against paramedics who do not comply with its demand to retake the Practical Skills Exam which the state will conduct on August 9 at SUNY Upstate Medical Center.