Training fraud to cost EMTs time off
Some could face criminal charges
More than 200 Massachusetts emergency medical technicians are facing lengthy suspensions because they faked records showing they had taken required refresher courses, state health regulators said yesterday.
Most of the EMTs, who work for ambulance companies and cities and towns in the Boston area and Merrimack Valley, will lose their professional licenses for at least nine months, meaning they will forfeit thousands of dollars in pay. They could also face criminal charges: The state Department of Public Health has turned over its files to the state attorney general’s office for possible prosecution.
John Auerbach, the state’s public health commissioner, said his agency’s action is designed to send a message about the importance of the recertification classes and the value placed on the integrity of health care workers.
“Falsification of these training records is a breach of the public trust,’’ Auerbach said during a press conference. “There is a certain standard of ethical behavior for people either operating in the public sector or providing health care services.’’
The investigation found no evidence patient care had been compromised because the EMTs failed to complete the classes, Auerbach said.
The suspensions begin in two weeks, though EMTs can appeal to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals. State officials said they will release the names of the ambulance services and communities affected by the suspensions next week, as well as the identities of the EMTs.
Auerbach said his agency is work ing with ambulance companies and municipalities to make sure there are enough EMTs to respond to car wrecks, heart attacks, and other emergencies. Statewide, there are more than 23,000 licensed EMTs and paramedics.
At Trinity EMS Inc., with headquarters in Lowell, 35 workers were swept up in the state investigation.
“Unfortunately, they were enticed by the ease and quickness to get their certification recertified,’’ said Chris Dick, Trinity’s marketing director. “I’m disappointed in them, but I feel bad for them on the other end of it. If you have a guy who can’t work for nine months in a field he’s been working in for 15 years, there’s going to be some tough payments ahead of them.’’
Knowing that some of its 250 employees were likely to be implicated, Trinity recently hired 17 new workers and expects to be able to cover all shifts, Dick said.
The Boston Fire Department was aware 21 of its employees were under investigation, but spokesman Steve MacDonald said that because offices were closed yesterday for Bunker Hill Day, the department did not know how many were suspended. The department is conducting its own investigation.
State regulators said their investigation revealed a web of deceit that lasted at least 18 months, ensnared hundreds, and involved the exchange of relatively modest amounts of money.
EMTs must complete 24 to 36 hours of refresher classes every two years to renew their professional licenses. But some were so eager to shirk that responsibility, Auerbach said, that they participated in a scheme to doctor records that are sent to the state as legal proof courses are taken.
The EMTs did not have to look far to find somebody who would help them skip classes and falsely certify they had attended.
“We found trainers who regularly announced and marketed nonexistent EMT refresher and CPR training with the intention of providing EMTs with the credits they needed to keep their licenses and their jobs,’’ said Auerbach. The EMTs “knowingly signed up and paid for these trainings fully aware they would never be held,’’ he said.
The Department of Public Health singled out two instructors for being particularly culpable, identifying them as Mark Culleton and Leo Nault. The state permanently revoked their EMT certifications and their authorization to conduct training classes. Neither Culleton nor Nault could be reached yesterday.
The payments, made directly to the trainers or through intermediaries, were often as little as $50. “In some cases,’’ Auerbach said, “if they knew the EMT from work or they were a friend of the EMT, no money was exchanged.’’
Once a deal was struck, he said, the EMTs would fraudulently sign a document attesting they had attended the classes.
Four EMTs involved in collecting payments will lose their licenses for two years. The majority of EMTs, 184, face nine-month suspensions; 23 face lesser 45-day suspensions.
The state is strengthening its oversight of training, and will conduct frequent spot checks to make sure classes are conducted appropriately.
The Department of Public Health is developing mandatory training for EMTs on the ethics of falsifying records.
“We believe that the length of these suspensions will send a strong message to others about the importance of compliance with licensure requirements,’’ Auerbach said.
Stephen Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.