Tuesday, August 19, 2008

911 dispatcher fired for caller's death wants her job back, has 12-year record of screw-ups

A Georgia 911 dispatcher accused of a series of mistakes that misdirected emergency crews and delayed an ambulance 45 minutes to a dying woman has appealed her firing. Atlanta lawyer Rory Starkey confirmed he had filed an appeal of the termination of Gina Conteh.

Conteh was fired Aug. 6 for her actions four days earlier. The 12-year veteran 911 operator took a call from Darlene Dukes who was gasping for breath from a blood clot in her lung. Conteh mistakenly sent help to southwest Atlanta when Dukes had called from Johns Creek in north Fulton.

The first help for Dukes, fire and police didn’t arrive for more than 30 minutes. Conteh failed to send an ambulance when she dispatched fire and police. So, Rural Metro Ambulance service didn’t arrive until an hour after Duke’s call came in.

Conteh is entitled to appeal any action taken against her. That group can overturn or amend any action and they often shorten suspensions or reduce proposed firings to time off without pay. That has often frustrated department heads, political officials and others who routinely complain that it’s too difficult to rid of problem employees.

It’s a process Conteh is familiar with. She’s been repeatedly cited for mistakes in routing emergency crews, fights with co-workers, chronic tardiness and problems staying awake to handle emergency calls.

Her personnel record covers 2,100 pages. She’s been suspended repeatedly and filed a series of grievances against others. At least twice in the past four years, Conteh’s supervisors pushed to fire her. One of those attempts was because Conteh repeatedly fell asleep when she should have been answering emergency calls. The other was for failure to respond to test calls from a supervisor. Both times she avoided termination.

Four years ago, Conteh’s supervisors were threatening to pull her off dispatching ambulances. A shows supervisor Latisha Lester felt Conteh “was not grasping the radio” after nearly eight years on the job. Lester went on to say Conteh “appears to be having a retention problem as well as multi-tasking issues, especially when calls are coming back to back.” She reported that Conteh “loses focus and that leaves her radio in total chaos.”

Conteh was still dispatching on Aug. 2 when Dukes called in gasping for breath from a blood clot in her lung. Conteh handled multiple calls while she was misdirecting help that might have saved Dukes life. Twenty five minutes elapsed before she realized the error and sent police and fire units to Dukes’ apartment. Even then, Conteh delayed another 20 minutes before dispatching an ambulance. Dukes, a mother of two, was proclaimed dead an hour later.

Since then, Fulton officials have fired Conteh and reassigned longtime 911 Director “Rocky” Moore. They have also pledged to rush through both an internal and external audit of the 911 center to assure Fulton’s nearly 1 million residents that help will come when you dial 911. (info from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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