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updated: 8/20/2012 5:21 PM

Antioch Rescue Squad in need of "dramatic changes," state says

Letter lists many examples of misconduct and lax management

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  • This building at 825-35 Holbeck Drive houses offices of the Antioch Fire Department and the Antioch Rescue Squad. The rescue squad is not associated with the fire department.

       This building at 825-35 Holbeck Drive houses offices of the Antioch Fire Department and the Antioch Rescue Squad. The rescue squad is not associated with the fire department.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

The Antioch Rescue Squad is being accused by the Illinois State Department of Public Health of mistreating patients, allowing employees to begin their shifts within hours of excessively drinking alcohol, and improperly placing medication into the food and drinks of fellow rescue squad members.

Those allegations are only a handful of numerous complaints made in an Aug. 14 letter from the Illinois Department of Public Health to Antioch Rescue Squad Chief Wayne Sobczak.

Sobzak refused to comment on the letter Friday, directing all calls to the rescue squad attorney.

Attorney Marty LaPointe, though, said it was a private matter between the Antioch Rescue Squad and the board of health.

"The IDPH have not made any conclusions at this point," he said. "We are dealing with the IDPH on these issues, so I don't think it's proper for me or the rescue squad to deal with them in a newspaper."

The Antioch Rescue Squad is a charity rescue foundation that is made up entirely of volunteer members, and not associated with the Antioch Fire Protection District and Antioch Fire Department. It was formed in 1940 and provides emergency medical care 24 hours a day.

The letter, sent to the Antioch Rescue Squad by Division Chief Jack Fleeharty of the Illinois Department of Public Health, EMS and Highway Safety Division, said the findings were based upon an independent investigation into the department that started on or before May of 2012.

Fleeharty said while the findings are "informal" at this time, the department believes that "dramatic changes are necessary and should be undertaken immediately."

The letter adds that the department of health has not made any final decisions on whether to bring any formal action against the rescue squad, but said such actions are being contemplated.

A copy of the letter was sent anonymously to the Daily Herald in the mail. The state health department confirmed its accuracy and emailed an identical copy of the same letter.

Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman with the Illinois Department of Public Health, said via email that "due to the nature of the preliminary and informal findings and the Department's commitment to protect the public, the health department felt it necessary to bring these preliminary and informal findings to the attention of the Antioch Rescue Squad so that immediate corrective action could be taken -- even before the Department finally determines the nature of formal action it may take."

She added the department of health could not comment further due to the ongoing investigation and potential litigation surrounding the letter.

Antioch Rescue Squad President Steve Smouse -- who also serves as Antioch Township Supervisor -- said the allegations contained inside the four-page letter from the state are untrue, adding the state is merely echoing a lawsuit filed against the Antioch Rescue Squad in 2011 by three of its female members.

"What I think is, whoever filed the lawsuit is trying to bring the state into it," he said. "To my knowledge, none of these allegations are true."

According to the letter, allegations were made to the department of public health that include breaches of confidentiality by rescue squad members of medical records, improper use of medications, improper use of IV solutions, improper administration of IV fluids, breach of EMS System protocols, unprofessional treatment of patients, improper restraint use and failure to report occurrences of improper activities to the EMS System.

The letter continues that the Illinois Department of Public Health conducted interviews with nine members of the Antioch Rescue Squad on May 9, with attorneys from the Antioch Rescue Squad present, and evidence obtained "tends to validate several of the allegations."

According to the letter, squad members were improperly placing medication into the food and beverages of other squad members, and the department was not able to identify a clear process to track and identify missing, misused or absent medications.

In addition, the letter notes IV fluids were sometimes used for the purpose of treating staff members who had presumably consumed excessive amounts of alcohol. Staff members were allowed to start their shift within hours of excessive consumption of alcohol, and some patients were intentionally mistreated by ambulance personnel in order to justify the use of restraints.

The state also said in the letter that members of the rescue squad were encouraged by management to not report improper utilization of medications to the EMS System but to keep that information within the rescue squad itself, and that there is a lack of medication inventory with little to no security or quality control.

The state found that staff members reported multiple allegations of misconduct to management and board members, but several of the allegations named board members as being aware of or having participated in the alleged misconduct. The letter said management has not put into place adequate administrative and managerial systems, did not have personnel files for members of the squad, has no formal rules of conduct, has no formal disciplinary procedures, and that some members appear to lack adequate professional standards.

State officials said in the letter that the ARS "became a self-regulated agency through a board comprised of only members of the agency. This contributed to a lack of corrective action being implemented to avoid or curtail some of the alleged activity."

It continued "The prevailing management philosophy appears to be 'If I did not see it, it did not happen and I'm not going to adequately investigate or take meaningful corrective action.'"

The letter comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed on behalf of three current or former members of the Antioch Rescue Squad who claim they were sexually harassed while working at the department as far back as May of 2008.

The letter comes just days before a contract was expected to be signed between the rescue squad and the village of Antioch that would have given the village more regulatory control over the rescue squad.

Antioch Village Manager Jim Keim would not comment about the letter or the allegations, and refused to say whether the proposed contract is expected to be approved Monday.

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