FD/EMS Medical Director resigns with a letter outlining dire issues

In a scathingly critical letter that outlines the ongoing problems in DC's Fire and EMS system, Medical Director Jullette Saussy resigned her position as Assistant Fire Chief. The letter, dated January 29th and sent to Mayor Muriel Bowser, provides insight into the problems that are making the emergency medical response ability of the District not only ineffective, but life-threatening.

"While some of our needless deaths have made headlines, tragically people die needlessly quite frequently and the majority of them don't make the news." - Dr. Jullette Saussy

"People are dying because we are moving too slow," Dr. Saussy writes in the letter. "The latest example is a young man stabbed to the chest Wednesday around 10 am. He suffered a potentially survivable injury, but it took more than 18 minutes for a transport ambulance to reach the 35-year old man on 37th Street S.E. We failed that young man and it did not make the news."

Dr. Saussy's letter goes through multiple topics and issues, from FD/EMS culture and lack of accountability, to a lack of measuring performance, lack of training and an over-reliance on "this is the way it's always been done." Apparently, problems with Fire Chief Gregory Dean and their seemingly opposing philosophies has also led to Dr. Saussy's feeling of being unable to effect change in the department -- change she was specifically hired to bring about.

DC government is in the process of hiring a third-party ambulance vendor (for $12 million dollars) to make up for the deficiencies inherent in our emergency response system and enable DC crews to focus on life-saving calls rather than routine hospital runs. 

DC Fire/EMS Chief Gregory Dean

DC Fire/EMS Chief Gregory Dean

“We lose time with units at the hospital," Chief Dean said at the January ANC 4D meeting, responding to a question on why use third-party companies. "But now third-party units will be the ones to stay at the hospital, while our units can respond to 911 calls.”

"That is one of the best written letters I have ever read," ANC 4D Commissioner David Sheon wrote in a listserv email response to reading Dr. Saussy's letter. "I hope that this letter gets a lot of traction and drives real change - and that she's brought back to lead the change.  Incredible."

Update: The Washington City Paper asked Mayor Bowser about the resignation today at an unrelated press conference:

Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday said that the "biggest shock" of Dr. Jullette Saussy's resignation as medical director of D.C.'s Fire and Emergency Medical Services agency was that she didn't give "adequate notice."

At a press conference Wednesday held after the mayor's unveiling of a new homeless shelter designed for women in Ward 2, Bowser said her administration did not expect to solve FEMS' problems within several months. She added that the District would appoint an interim medical director for the department and eventually recruit one who is "committed to the system in D.C., and the commitment is going to take longer than six months." Asked whether she knew if Saussy was "unhappy" in her role at FEMS before sending her resignation letter in January, Bowser replied:

"I know that Dr. Saussy wants a third-service in the District that she wants to lead outside the fire department. Now, that question has been asked and answered in the District of Columbia, and Dr. Saussy was recruited to work within our system." Read the full Washington City Paper article.

Dr. Saussy's letter:

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.

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