Sunday, May 11, 2003

Death led to city's take-everyone policy


There's a name for why the Cincinnati Fire Department hesitates to change its policy of taking anyone to the hospital who wants to go.

The name is Alma Johnson.

In 1989, the 57-year-old woman lived on Ruth Avenue in Evanston. An ambulance was called to her home after she lapsed into unconsciousness. But when they arrived, emergency medical technicians saw empty wine bottles in her house.

That led them to conclude, incorrectly, that she had simply passed out from drinking. She died of a ruptured blood vessel in her brain after emergency workers decided not to take her to the hospital.

An investigation determined the emergency workers should have noticed that her pupils were different sizes, a sign of serious brain trauma.

Johnson's case cemented the "you call, we haul" rule that says everyone who calls for emergency medical help is taken to the hospital if they ask to go, fire union President Joe Diebold says.

It also prompted hours of debate at Cincinnati City Council. Ultimately, the city spent $461,000 to buy and staff an additional ambulance, its sixth, put into service in 1990. No ambulance companies have been added in the 13 years since.

That "new" ambulance company is Ambulance 12 in Camp Washington, the busiest in the city. It made more than 5,400 runs last year.

Jane Prendergast

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