Rescue squad suing UNC

To get evidence for a federal lawsuit against the county, a local rescue squad is also suing UNC because of what they claim is a violation of state public records law.

Both lawsuits stem from the volunteer rescue squad’s worry that after being told they cannot work, emergency response times have slowed.

 Jeremy Browner, attorney for the Orange County Rescue Squad, said he plans to argue in the federal lawsuit that the rescue squad’s due process was violated when it was placed on stand-down in June 2008 by Col. Frank Montes de Oca, director of Orange County EMS.

Montes de Oca said the group was told not to work pending a review of their work after receiving complaints of unprofessionalism.

The Orange County Rescue Squad filed a state action against the University in April after it was denied access to a study containing response times for Emergency Medical Services in Orange County.

The EMS Performance Improvement Center in the UNC Department of Emergency Medicine gathered the data the rescue squad is requesting.

The squad plans to use the information as evidence that response times have slowed.

But UNC officials won’t release it, claiming confidential patient information could be endangered. A representative with UNC Health Care said they were not permitted to comment on the case.

A state hearing is set for Sept. 28 to determine if the University’s information is classified as a medical record.

“We’re stuck there right now,” Browner said.

“So the judge has to decide right now if we have a legal right to the release that we’re seeking. If he decides that we don’t, then the case stops there.”

Browner said N.C. public records law allows anyone to request records from a public entity such as UNC.

“The response that we got from UNC is that it falls under protected information based on HIPAA laws,” said Brian Matthews, chief of the Orange County Rescue Squad.

But Matthews said they have not requested patient information.

“We just want response times from the time of dispatch to the time they arrived to the hospital. That’s all we requested,” he said.

Browner said he has found several cases in which the squad thinks response time would have improved if they could work.

In one case, Browner said, it took a woman an hour to get to the hospital after she called EMS. He said the Orange County Rescue Squad was closer, but they couldn’t respond because of stand-down status.

Browner will argue at the federal hearing that Montes de Oca has the authority to make a recommendation to Orange County Board of Commissioners, not to directly place the squad on stand-down.

“He didn’t recommend it,” Browner said. “He just decreed it.”

The story so far

June 2008: Col. Frank Montes de Oca, director of Emergency Management Services, asks the Orange County Rescue Squad to stand down pending review of their work. South Orange Rescue Squad is allowed to remain operating.

April 2009: Jeremy Browner, the Orange County Rescue Squad’s attorney, files a lawsuit against Orange County and Col. Frank Montes de Oca, claiming violation of public records laws. They also file a federal class action lawsuit against the same parties alleging that because of the stand down and inadequate resources, the response time of the emergency calls has increased. They later file a suit against UNC to obtain withheld emergency medical response time data.

Sept. 28, 2009: A hearing is scheduled in Hillsborough to discuss the squad’s public records suits. The date of the federal hearing is still unknown.

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