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September 15, 2011
Tenn. paramedic demoted after drug mistake
By Beth Burger
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — When Melvin Davis was carried into the emergency room last Thursday, a doctor noticed something wasn't right.
"Soon after we arrived at Erlanger with a patient, [the ER doctor] visually determined the wrong IV bag was hung and reported it to the supervisor," said Chief Ken Wilkerson, who oversees Hamilton County Medical Services.
It was a normal saline bag with a medication injected into it, but it was the wrong medicine and it was coursing through Davis' veins.
The doctor notified the supervisors of paramedic Timothy Waldo and emergency medical technician Jamie Jackson. They brought Davis, 57, to the hospital after he was cut down from a rope tied around his ankle on a challenges course at Greenway Farms. Davis said he had been hanging there for two days.
Within 30 minutes, the supervisors took Waldo and Jackson off duty pending the outcome of an investigation.
On Wednesday, Waldo, 46, was demoted to EMT after being a paramedic for as many as nine years. He also was suspended for 28 days without pay, placed on probation and ordered to undergo remedial training.
Waldo declined to comment when reached by phone.
Jackson, 38, who was driving the ambulance, was absolved in the incident.
Davis remained hospitalized and his condition was upgraded to fair on Wednesday.
Wilkerson described Waldo as "humble" when he appeared Wednesday at a disciplinary hearing.
"What happened was accidental and an oversight on his part," Wilkerson said.
Citing privacy laws, Wilkerson would not disclose what medication was administered to Davis. He also declined to release the internal investigation, based on the advice of Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor.
Wilkerson said the investigation did not take into account Davis' condition after being given the incorrect medicine.
"It's hard for us to know what is the effect of the medication and not be able to account for other stuff," he said. "What was taken into account was what occurred."
Wilkerson said Hamilton County paramedics respond to about 29,000 emergency calls each year and cases like this one are extremely rare.
"Our goal is 100 percent success ratio and this is not the norm," Wilkerson said.
During his time with Hamilton County, Waldo has had average to above-average performance reviews and a couple of commendations.
He worked as a paramedic in Cumberland County from 2002 to 2007 before coming to Hamilton County.
The only documented disciplinary incident in Waldo's personnel file was in March, when he did not perform an inventory on an ambulance and there were major shortages, according to a report. He received a warning.