MARCO ISLAND — Ambulance agencies in Florida have a poor track record with license renewals and a handful of paramedic schools have admitted students without valid emergency medical technician credentials, state records show.
But the Daily News' review of state disciplinary actions for the past three years shows no case similar to a mishandled emergency call last Oct. 2 by the NCH Healthcare System ambulance and Collier County EMS.
The mistakes resulted in a 54-minute delay for stroke patient Paul Anderson's transport from NCH's Marco Healthcare Center to its Downtown Naples Hospital. Anderson died the next day at the hospital.
The hospital system earlier this year paid a $2,000 fine to settle the case with the state Bureau of Emergency Medical Services. The state had found probable cause that NCH had failed to properly care for Anderson and its ambulance lacked necessary medication on board, records show.
Among 40 other settlements involving ambulance operators around Florida in the past three years, 18 fines exceeded what NCH paid, often by twice or three times the amount, the Daily News' review of state records found.
The majority of the other fines were for tardiness in submitting license renewal applications and sometimes for operating with an expired license.
Anderson was taken to the Marco center by a friend around 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 2, because of dizziness. He was being cared for by the staff and 911 recordings indicated several ambulances were dispatched and canceled to take him off the island to a nearby hospital. NCH's own ambulance driver for patient transports between NCH facilities was late to work that morning. Still, NCH told the county EMS at the time that it would handle Anderson's transport.
Family members of Anderson, who was a part-time Marco Island resident from Minnesota, were unaware a $2,000 fine was the state's action against NCH.
"I had no idea," said grandson Dave Anderson, a charter boat captain in Marco Island and Goodland. "It's obviously nothing."
Paul Anderson's daughter, Kathy Rauth, of Minnesota, said it was "a little hand slap."
NCH spokeswoman Debbie Curry said in a statement that the hospital system had recently resolved the matter with the state agency.
"Quality care and patient safety continue to be our primary focus," she said in a statement.
The complaint to the state about NCH's actions that day was filed by the Marco Island Fire Department, but Marco fire Chief Mike Murphy declined to comment about the fine. The Marco fire department also filed a complaint against Collier EMS for its role in what happened, Murphy said.
State Department of Health spokeswoman Ashley Carr couldn't comment whether such a complaint exists — disclosure isn't allowed until 10 days after probable cause is found that a violation of state regulations may have occurred. The state EMS Bureau is part of the state health department.
Naples attorney Sharon Hanlon, who was representing Anderson's widow before she decided not to proceed in a civil case against NCH, said the state's role in these types of events is to determine what went wrong and to require a corrective plan.
In this case, however, NCH relinquished its ambulance license about two weeks after the Oct. 2 call. The hospital system had been licensed by county government since 2004 to do its own ambulance transports between NCH sites.
"Oftentimes, in my experience, there is not a fine and more of a finding," Hanlon said. "(The state) investigated, made a ruling and a determination what is appropriate."
In that regard, a $2,000 fine wasn't a disappointment, she said, but recognized how it is perceived by the public.
Here's what the Daily News' review of state records showed the fines were in some other cases around Florida:
Edison State College in Fort Myers paid a $6,000 fine in December 2010 for admitting and graduating a paramedic student whose EMT license had expired.
Miami-Dade College in Miami paid a $5,000 fine in June 2011 for admitting and graduating a paramedic student whose EMT license had expired.
Advanced Air Ambulance in Miami this past June paid a $4,600 settlement fine for submitting its license renewal application 46 days late to the state.
Global Jet Care in Brooksville this past June paid a $6,200 settlement fine for being 62 days late in submitting its renewal application and for operating two days with an expired license.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida in Clewiston paid a $6,100 settlement this past May for being late with its license renewal application and for operating with an expired license for 19 days.
Liberty Ambulance Service in Jacksonville paid a $1,000 fine this past February for transporting a patient without proper signage.