Sunday, March 9, 2003

Ambulance heart monitors stolen

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - In what may be part of a nationwide trend, five heart monitors, valued at $15,000 each, were reported stolen last week from ambulances parked outside area hospitals.

"Somebody's coming into these vehicles knowing what they're looking for - or so it seems," said Hank Kauffman, Grandview Heights fire chief and president of the Franklin County Fire Chiefs Association.

The ambulances were parked outside Grant Medical Center and University Hospitals East.

Emergency medical technicians in central Ohio have been ordered to lock ambulance doors and take additional precautions while unloading patients in hospital parking areas and moving them to emergency rooms.

Rescue workers from California to Iowa to Maine have reported equipment stolen from ambulances during the past six months, according to newspaper reports.

"It's almost like a ring. They go to Florida this month, Wyoming next, then XYZ," said Bill Leonard, executive vice president of Medical Transportation Insurance Professionals, an Arizona-based ambulance insurance firm.

"It's getting worse. Five years ago, we never had anything like this."

Florida officials said there is a black market for medical equipment in Latin America and in used medical-supply outlets in the United States. Florida formed a task force in 1998 and several years ago made it a felony to steal medical equipment.

In Florida, equipment has been stolen from ambulances, but more commonly from hospitals.

Emergency officials from central Ohio said this was the first they've heard about the problem.

"I've never known of any actual units being taken. I've been here 28 years," said Jim DeConnick, Mifflin Township fire chief.

After a Mifflin Township ambulance took a patient to University Hospitals East on Wednesday, the medics returned to their vehicle and discovered a heart monitor was missing.

"A witness saw an individual pull up in a car, enter the patient compartment of the medic and leave with a piece of equipment," DeConnick said.

Three of the five monitors reported stolen this past week were from the Columbus Fire Division, with one from Mifflin Township and one from Rural/Metro Ambulance, a privately owned service.

"Although we were only investigating one (theft), we were able to recover two" monitors, police spokeswoman Sherry Mercurio said.

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