Thursday, December 11, 2008

129 paramedics accused of preying on patients


DALLAS — They answer the call 24-7, often risking their own safety to rescue the sick and injured and rush them to the hospital. But some paramedics have been more predator than hero.
Over the past 18 months, at least 129 ambulance attendants across the U.S. have been accused of sex-related crimes on duty or off, an investigation by The Associated Press found. Some of them molested patients in the back of an ambulance.

“It’s a dream job for a sexual predator,” said Greg Kafoury, a Portland, Ore., lawyer who represents three women who were groped by a paramedic. “Everything is there: Women who are incapacitated, so they’re hugely distracted. Medical cover to put your hands in places where, in any other context, a predator would be immediately recognized as such.”

Across the U.S., emergency medical technicians have been accused in recent months of such crimes as rape, soliciting minors over the Internet and possession of child porn, according to an AP survey of the state agencies that oversee those professions.

Exactly how many of these EMTs were alleged to have committed their crimes on the job is unclear. But some of more shocking cases include:

— A Standish, Mich., paramedic sent to prison in March for molesting a girl who was on her way to the hospital after she was injured at her 15th birthday party.

— A Pinellas County, Fla., paramedic arrested in July after he allegedly sexually assaulted a woman in an ambulance en route to a hospital.

— A Chester County, Pa., paramedic sentenced in July to up to 20 years in prison for engaging in sex and providing alcohol to teenagers he befriended through their interest in emergency medical service.

— A Copperas Cove, Texas, paramedic awaiting trial in January on charges he exposed and touched an 18-year-old accident victim’s breasts while pretending to tend to her injuries.

— A Chattanooga, Tenn., EMT accused in a lawsuit of giving a 30-year-old woman an extra dose of morphine and then completely undressing her in the back of an ambulance even though her injuries were minor.

State health officials in 23 states reported receiving sex-related complaints involving EMS workers. New York reported the most complaints — 17. Thirteen of the complaints were substantiated and resulted in workers losing their certification.

Texas reported 13 complaints, Massachusetts 11 and Virginia 10. No breakdown was immediately available showing how many of those allegations involved sexual misconduct on the job.

Several EMS officials said the number of complaints is troubling but does not necessarily point to an industrywide problem. They noted that the profession employs nearly 900,000 people in the U.S.

“That number in and of itself doesn’t shock me, knowing the number of providers we have in the country,” said Steve Blessing, state EMS director in Delaware and president of the National Association of State EMS Officials. “Is even one case tolerable? I think most state directors would say no. But we’re bound by reality here.”

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