911 dispatcher in Ohio suspended for refusing to send ambulance to stroke victim

"He is getting worse and worse," a frantic neighbor of the stroke victim said. "He’s going to die here."

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By David K. Li

The city of Cincinnati suspended a 911 dispatcher after the operator refused to send help to a stroke victim, who was found dead the following day, officials said.

City Manager Patrick A. Duhaney told the City Council in an email Monday that was obtained by NBC News the unidentified emergency dispatcher has been taken off the job for this "serious neglect of duty."

The incident unfolded Jan. 12 when the neighbor of the stroke victim called 911, asking for help to be sent to their apartment complex, according to Duhaney. But the neighbor was on a different floor, and the dispatcher said the caller needed to be with the patient so that he could be asked a series of questions, according to Duhaney's note to council members.

The neighbor pleaded with the dispatcher, according to the city manager, telling the operator at various points in the call:

“He is getting worse and worse.”

“This is an emergency.”

“He’s had a stroke.”

“He has a stroke and has another one coming. He’s gonna die.”

“He’s going to die here.”

During the 8-minute call, Duhaney said the dispatcher told the caller, “We can’t force ourselves on him,” and, “If he doesn’t want help, they won’t do anything. He has to want to be helped.”

The 911 dispatcher also allegedly said, “There is nothing the fire department or police officers can do. They can’t force themselves on him.”

"Eventually the caller, hung up," Duhaney wrote. "The 9-1-1 call taker closed the call, no help was sent."

The next day, there was another 911 call from that same apartment complex, according to Duhaney: "The caller indicated that the individual who suffered the medical emergency the previous night had passed away."

An investigation by the city's Emergency Communications Center found that the neighbor had given dispatch an accurate address and a proper description of what was happening, 45 seconds into the call, the city manager said.

"Yet, they did not initiate an Emergency Medical Services response. Emergency Medical Dispatcher training explicitly states that a subject experiencing what appears to be a 'stroke must receive an immediate response that is not subject to delay,'" according to Duhaney. "The call-taker was suspended with pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary process detailed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement."

The city manager's note did not specifically explain how the Jan. 12 caller knew the neighbor was suffering a stroke. Still, the city said first responders should have been sent.

"What took place on the night of January 12 is nothing short of a tragedy," Duhaney wrote. "It’s unclear if the individual would have lived or died, but the actions of this call-taker undermined the possibility of a positive outcome in this situation."

A representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1543, the dispatcher's union, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

"Though missteps took place in this instance, I do not want it to overshadow the amazing, difficult work that our call-takers, dispatchers and emergency communications team perform every day," Duhaney wrote. "I hope that none of us will allow the amazing day-to-day work and continued progress made at the ECC to be overshadowed or tarnished by the inaction of one individual."