11.7.08

3 UMDNJ paramedics fired in KKK hazing incident
Three paramedics at Newark's University Hospital were fired this week after grainy images taken by a cellphone camera surfaced showing two student interns garbed in white sheets to look like robes of the Ku Klux Klan.

Officials at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which operates the hospital, and its emergency medical services unit, called the episode "ugly and abhorrent," and "not be tolerated at any level."

University president William F. Owen, who disclosed details of the incident on Friday, said one of the paramedics offered to resign, but was terminated instead on Monday. Two others were subsequently fired on Thursday.

"You don't walk away from something like this," he said, clearly angry.

UMDNJ officials are still trying to piece together what led to the photos, which they said were taken last Sunday and quickly passed to managers, who wasted little time in taking action.

In one of the photographs released by the university, the trainees - both students from Northeastern University in Boston - stand with white sheets draped over their heads; one carrying a wooden cross held together with surgical gauze and tape. An EMS paramedic in a University Hospital uniform can be seen adjusting the sheet of the other.

The sheets, with holes cut out for the eyes, apparently came from an ambulance.

"You can't make this stuff up. It's like being in Tennessee in the 1950s," said Owen, a Memphis native.

UMDNJ identified the three fired paramedics as Timothy Prahm, Henry Solares and Thomas Hart. None could be immediately reached for comment Friday night.

Officials said none of those involved was a person of color, and the Essex County Prosecutor's Office said it was unaware of the incident and was not currently investigating.

Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, which contracts with UMDNJ for emergency medical services, said the episode was "completely unacceptable."

"The City of Newark will not tolerate such behavior by medical professionals, and we are glad that UMDNJ has moved to terminate these individuals," he said in a statement.

Owen said the university is continuing to investigate, but that the incident appeared to be some kind of hazing on the part of EMS workers targeting students from a continuing education program at Northeastern working to become certified paramedics.

University Hospital's emergency medical service is the state's busiest and is used by a number of outside programs for specialized training. Northeastern University has sent students for field internships at the hospital for some years, with 28 students going through the program since 2005, officials said.

EMS workers privately said the hazing of students is not unheard of, but said many were shocked by what occurred on Sunday.

"They get bullied around," said one paramedic. "A year ago, they shaved the kids' heads."

According to Owen, his investigators were told that shortly before the Sunday incident, several EMS workers on break in a conference room were talking about a video downloaded from the web-site You Tube called "The Amazing Racist" - meant to be a racist parody of the CBS show "The Amazing Race."

The video shows a young white man in Klan robes carrying a cross into the store of an African-American shopkeeper in a successful effort to incite a confrontation, and then later bringing the robe into another store for dry-cleaning.

"Sometime after that conversation, they made the cross, took sheets from the EMS service and 'robed' the students," Owen said.

The UMDNJ president said the two students were apparently cajoled into participating, being told, "you need to do this," and "this will give you points toward your grade."

The students, who have not been named, immediately left the campus on Sunday and have not returned to UMDNJ. Officials at Northeastern said they will halt the placement of students with UMDNJ pending further review.

Philomena Mantella, senior vice president at Northeastern, said the two students were coerced into what she called an "appalling and offensive incident." She said the university's staff found alternative placements for the students and offered them counseling.

"We condemn the offenders' atrocious conduct and support President Owen's swift and decisive response and his institution's zero-tolerance philosophy," she said.

Owen said he had called Northeastern's president and provost to apologize.

"They left kids at my house and we didn't take care of them," he said. "We should not have allowed this to happen."

John J. Gerow, president of Teamsters Local 97, which represents the paramedics at University Hospital, said he was still learning details of the incident and was not able to immediately respond.

"I've been representing these folks for 15 years and they are extremely professional," Gerow said. "It's sad if what I'm picking up did take place, because its uncalled for."

Gerow did not know whether any of the paramedics would ask the union for representation. But he said. "Bill Owen is a very sharp guy. I'm sure whatever steps he took needed to be taken."

Owen, meanwhile, said his anger still has not abated.

"This is wrong," Owen said. "This is not UMDNJ, and it's not going to be tolerated at any level.

PS I WILL BE LOOKING FOR Timothy Prahm, Henry Solares and Thomas Hart on the Office of Emergency Medical Services Legal/Enforcement Actions page...AKA hall of shame for NJ EMT's & Paramedic

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now, unfortunately, other paramedics and EMTs are taking the heat, the criticism, and the dirty looks for this. I just hope none of us comes to harm. And, unfortunately, anyone familiar with UMD Newark knows how messed up that place is, and almost has reverse racism. Maybe the culture there actually bred this. Who knows? Let's just hope this doesn't stay in the news very long, it's hard enough. And obviously, OBVIOUSLY, nary a few would think that they would really actually want to harm anyone, or treat any racial group differently, unless they had a paranoia. Yes, paranoia. The self-hyped-up fear of such actions gives these crude behaviors too much power over the people most incensed by them, by their own reaction. The only just thing would be for people not to have bad thoughts ever and everone would be treated exactly equally. However, in a societal attempt to right past wrongs, people are treated very unfairly. And many times, it is levied against the "majority," and seems to frequently happen in public-sector jobs, such as UMDNJ.

I say with the loudest, clearest voice that we are pioneers of equal rights and treating people with the utmost respect, because to us, they are all simply "patients." We have power over people when they are in a compromised position, and we serve them with more professionalism and integrity than other, more educated and higher-paid professionals sometimes do. I can think of no better advocate for a patient than an EMS worker. We care. Any EMS personel reading this knows exactly what I say. Say it out loud yourself, because in your righteousness you know it is true. Though we joke about hell, we in EMS are all going to heaven.

I saw one comment to a news story saying how that person believes most EMS workers think like this, are unprofessional, and without saying it, "scum." This is a small-minded remark in and of itself. Quite the opposite is true, if you know anything about EMS, but alas, most people don't. And it is not entirely our fault. It's just that there is nothing news-worthy about Paramedics or EMTs doing a great job with our patients every day, totally regardless of their age, sex, race, creed, religion or body-mass index, because that is what is expected of us. Furthermore, there is a certain public "repression of emotions" regarding EMS and our role, because, frankly, no one wants to think about being sick or injured. Ambulances are scary. Needles hurt. And no one really wants to think about us.

If anyone outside of our profession had even a clue about EMS, they would understand we simply love our jobs, love doing what we do, and have proven it by withstanding the low-ranking, low-paying, low-recognition, low-benefit, public emotionally-repressed daily grind. Now we have to withstand more bad press about a bad seed. This has happened before. But every profession has had a member of their group on the news for bad, and worse, behavior. It is nothing new. So we will go on, doing the job we love with the only real benefit being personal satisfaction in the care we provide and the lives we have improved, time after time. We've been doing it for years and years and years. And we treat everone with the exact same medicine. We do it because even we, the cynical, cannot deny even to ourselfs of the nobility of what we do on a daily basis.

Brian said...

I am sorry for this comment being so late, because I stumbled upon this blog while searching for something else. And now that I look around, I am almost sorry I did. But, like someone who can't stop watching a train wreck in progress, I had to leave this comment.

Let me start by saying that in no way do I or anyone else at UH-EMS condone the actions of three people. It was, at a minimum, a stupid thing for the involved individuals to do, and it does not represent EMS as a whole, whether in Newark or anywhere else.

It was, however, newsworthy and I suppose that's why it made it on to your blog. Fair enough. I take issue with the comment at the very bottom which says "PS I WILL BE LOOKING FOR Timothy Prahm, Henry Solares and Thomas Hart on the Office of Emergency Medical Services Legal/Enforcement Actions page...AKA hall of shame for NJ EMT's & Paramedic".

Either you are someone who has an inside source on as-yet-unpublicized specific complaints against these individuals, or you are someone who sees an opportunity to kick some people while they are down based on a story you read in the newspaper. Or you are someone who used to work at UH-EMS and separated in less-than-honorable fashion. There are a couple of those types of people out there. I am guessing one of the latter two. And since your list of links on the right-hand side excludes both UMDNJ-University Hospital and UH-EMS, that's even stronger evidence. Or it could be an oversight.

The truth is, no one knows what sort of enforcement actions the state may take against one, two, or all three of the named individuals. If, after an investigation by the proper authorities, any one of them are allowed to keep their paramedic certifications, your statement does nothing but aggravate an already-difficult situation for an individual that may be found innocent based on evidence presented.

Now, this is your blog, and you can write anything you want. You can also censor any comments that anyone chooses to post on your blog. So be it.

Brian D. Fitzpatrick
UH-EMS MICU Paramedic 2814