State suspends Onondaga County's paramedic training program; is Rural/Metro to blame?

CNY Central has learned the State Health Department has suspended Onondaga County's Advanced Life Support Refresher Program and has ordered up to 35 paramedics to retake the exam in order to maintain their state certifications. This comes a year after a CNY Central investigation uncovered problems with Rural Metroâ??s paramedic recertification program.

The action is the result of an anonymous complaint paramedics were being improperly re-certified and relates to an investigation by the State Health Department last year into the re-certification program run by the Rural Metro Ambulance Service in Syracuse.

The NYS Health Department has not yet responded to our request for comment, but a letter to the paramedics obtained by CNY Central states, an "investigation and audit of the course records determined the Final Practical Skills Examination did not meet minimum requirements for certification." That examination requires paramedics to perform actual advanced life support tasks such as CPR, backboarding and administering IV's.

The letter says, "â?¦due to the severity of the problems with the Final Practical Skills Examination, the Department must invalidate the examination." In addition, the state is taking the unusual step of having the refresher course administered by SUNY Upstate Medical Center on August 9, 2014.

Onondaga County Emergency Management Commissioner Kevin Wisely told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon the state order was the result of a "paperwork problem" and that he will submit a "corrective action plan" to the State Health Department by the end of the month. Wisley says the public is in no danger and says the paramedics affected by the order are still qualified to administer advanced life support.

Though Onondaga County sponsors the paramedic refresher course, Wisely said he hired Rural Metro's Training Director Paul Voutsinas to administer it. Wisely said he was unaware that Rural Metro's re-certification program had been placed on probation by the State Health Department in response to a CNY Central investigation in 2013 into allegations of fraud in the way refresher courses were administered.

Last year, a NYS Health Department audit uncovered no fraud, but found widespread problems with the way Rural Metro paramedics were recertified. At the time, the state ordered five paramedics to show proof they were qualified to perform CPR and 26 others were forced to take refresher courses to maintain their state certifications.

Rural Metro issued a statement to CNY Central which claims, "the class was not formally affiliated with Rural/Metro Medical Service in any way, other than having some students in attendance.â?? The statement makes no mention of the county's decision to hire Rural/Metro's training director to administer the refresher course.

When asked about that apparent ommission, a spokesperson for Rural/Metro referred all questions to Kevin Wisely.