New Brunswick

2 paramedics suspended pending disciplinary hearing

Two Ambulance New Brunswick paramedics have been suspended, pending a public disciplinary hearing into their response to a call from a Saint John-area woman whose husband was suffering severe chest pains.

Paramedics who took the late 52-year-old Greg Garnett to hospital are subject of complaint by his wife

Greg Garnett, 52, died of an aortic dissection. His wife claims paramedics and nursing staff at the Saint John Regional Hospital mistreated him and ignored his complaints. (Nathalie Sturgeon/CBC)

Two Ambulance New Brunswick paramedics have been suspended, pending a public disciplinary hearing into their response to a call from a Saint John-area woman whose husband was suffering severe chest pains.

The suspensions of Debbie Lavigne and Victor Lavigne of St. Martins are the result of an investigation by the Paramedic Association of New Brunswick after the death of 52-year-old Greg Garnett.

Cathy Garnett filed formal complaints to the Paramedic Association of New Brunswick and the Nurses Association of New Brunswick. (Nathalie Sturgeon/CBC)

Garnett's wife, Cathy, believes he was mistreated after she called 911 on April 28, 2017, and she filed a formal complaint with the association in July.

Greg died in hospital in Saint John, five weeks after suffering an aortic dissection at his home in Rowley, a 38-kilometre drive from the city, east toward St. Martins.

Alleges missteps, rudeness

In Cathy Garnett's complaint to the paramedic association, she alleged a series of missteps, incorrect assessments and rude behaviour by the paramedics. 

Garnett said the paramedics were convinced her husband was only experiencing sciatica, or back pain, and yelled at him to get up off the floor and walk to the stretcher. One paramedic kicked Greg in the foot, Garnett said.

The complaints committee of the paramedics association met about the case at the end of August and decided there should be a disciplinary hearing.

Debbie Lavigne, speaking on behalf of herself and Victor Lavigne, said they couldn't comment on the advice of their lawyer. 

Hearing will be public

Chris Hood, executive director and registrar of the association, said suspension of a paramedic depends on the nature of the alleged offence and the best interest of protecting the public. The complaint is then moved to a disciplinary hearing. 

A date has yet to be set for the disciplinary hearing, a public, quasi-judicial procedure that will hear evidence and testimony from both sides.

In a letter from the complaints committee, Garnett was told her complaint "contains allegations, evidence and supporting documents indicating serious questions respecting the professional conduct and competence of the member."

The letter went on to explain the suspensions are "necessary to protect the public … pending the conduct and completion of the proceedings before the discipline committee."

Garnett was pleased the case will go before the discipline committee but said gathering all the evidence and documentation has forced her to relive the tragedy.

"I really thought this stuff would make me feel really good, but I think the more that they agree that something bad happened, and yes, they failed us, then I just think, 'Oh my god, if they had [done] their job, if they had [done] it right, he'd still be here today.'"

Chris Hood, the executive director and registrar of the paramedic association, said the number of times the association has suspended licences can be counted on both hands. (Jon Collicott/CBC)

The suspension of paramedics in New Brunswick has been rare in the nine years since the association was founded to enforce the Paramedic Act. About 1,200 paramedics are registered. 

"The number of times we've suspended people's licences you could count on both hands," Hood said. "We should be the course of last hope. Most times employers will take the extraordinary steps to terminate someone's job."

The employer, Ambulance New Brunswick, will not comment on the Garnett case or the two suspensions, saying in an email to CBC News that it doesn't discuss human resources issues.

Nor will it say whether, in a province where ambulance workers are in demand, it has been able to replace the employees suspended in the St. Martins area. The St. Martins jurisdiction is normally staffed by eight full-time and two part-time employees. 

Ambulance New Brunswick is run by the private firm Medavie Health Services, which last year won renewal of its contract with the province for another 10 years.  

The circumstances

Cathy Garnett is still upset by events leading up to her husband's death.

It took about 2½ hours after the 911 call before the ambulance reached the Saint John Regional Hospital, a trip Cathy said was made without any obvious urgency. It was a no-lights, no-siren, speed-limit-respecting drive.

When the ambulance got to the hospital at about 5:30 a.m., the paramedics conveyed their sciatica assessment to ER staff, she said.

Cathy Garnett believes that paramedics' insistence that her husband was suffering from back pain, and not anything more serious, played a role in how they treated him and in his death. (Nathalie Sturgeon/CBC)

Around 7:40 a.m., more than five hours after the 911 call, Greg was sent for a CT scan. The radiologist found a complete aortic dissection, a tear inside Greg's aorta.

Greg was immediately admitted to the ICU, where he suffered other complications, including infection, blood clots and pneumonia, before he could be moved to an intermediate level of care. 

He died June 6, 2017, the day after the move, after another aortic dissection.

The disciplinary hearing

Garnett is still sad and angry, feeling she's had to fight to prove the paramedics did something wrong.

She has also filed a complaint with the Nurses Association of New Brunswick over treatment her husband received from an ER nurse. Garnett alleged in the August complaint that the nurse told her husband to shut up while he screamed in pain.

The nurses association's complaint committee met Oct. 11 and has told Garnett it needs more information from the hospital before it decides whether the case should move to a disciplinary stage. 

Garnett said she was told she'd have an answer by the end of October. 

About the Author

Nathalie Sturgeon is a reporter for CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She is a recent graduate from the journalism program at St. Thomas University. She is from Blackville.

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