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Health Department places SKFR firefighter on probation for Facebook message to patient

South King Fire and Rescue - Courtesy of SKFR
South King Fire and Rescue
— image credit: Courtesy of SKFR

A South King Fire and Rescue (SKFR) firefighter is on probation with the state Department of Health after sending a Facebook message with “sexual innuendo” to a woman he treated during an emergency response earlier that day in February 2012, according to documents.

The state department concluded its investigation on Jan. 29, placing Brandon Church’s credential to practice as an emergency medical technician in the state of Washington on probation for one year.

The state department also ordered Church – who is the son of fire Chief Al Church – to complete a minimum of six hours of continuing education in the area of ethics and to reimburse costs of $1,451 to the Office of Emergency Medical Services and Trauma System Programs, the disciplining authority that investigated the complaint. His supervisor is also required to submit quarterly performance evaluation reports to the department.

“This does not limit his practice of medicine and it’s not to be construed as a finding of unprofessional conduct,” noted Church’s supervisor Ed Plumlee, assistant chief of SKFR.

Church entered into an informal settlement with the health department, called a stipulation to informal disposition. The settlement offers a way to resolve a case without formal charges and it did not require Church to admit any wrongdoing, according to the Department of Health.

The disciplining authority also considered Church’s admission of facts, remorse or awareness that his conduct was wrong and lack of disciplinary history with the health department.

Church was also previously on probation with the fire department for the same incident.

“I’m upset that the redundancy of his punishment has occurred,” Plumlee said. “I think our firefighter has paid his dues.”

SKFR disciplined Church in 2012 and charged him with professional misconduct, after Church treated, evaluated and transported a patient to St. Francis Hospital while on duty Feb. 22, 2012. Two hours later, Church sent the patient a friend request on Facebook that was “personal and included sexual innuendo,” according to SKFR investigation documents. The content of the message was undisclosed.

SKFR learned about Church’s action from the patient’s friend, who is a firefighter at another department. SKFR said Church violated the department’s code of ethics because he used privileged information, the patient’s name, to initiate contact with the patient. SKFR placed Church on disciplinary probation for one year and suspended him for one shift.

But Jerry Galland, who was a candidate for SKFR’s board of commissioners at the time, filed a complaint with the health department in July of 2013. Galland said SKFR failed to notify the health department of Church’s misconduct, as required by the Washington Administrative Code’s mandatory reporting laws.

The fire department’s board of commissioners voted 4-1 to retain law firm Patterson, Buchanan, Fobes and Leitch to represent Brandon Church in the health department investigation. Commissioner Mark Freitas was the sole dissenting vote in that decision, citing a poor use of taxpayer dollars.

Galland said he felt the health department did a “reasonable job” of addressing the issue, and the health department’s disciplinary actions it took against Church were “in line with what the fire department already did.”

“It’s a shame that this didn’t come to light [with the Department of Health] at the same time the fire department did its investigation,” Galland said, noting the disciplinary actions the health department imposed on Church “could have run concurrently with the fire department’s, if they would have just been forthcoming about it in the first place.”

However, Plumlee said SKFR consulted with legal counsel and the incident didn’t meet the threshold of requiring the fire department to report the matter to the health department.

“I still don’t believe personally that the department had to report this at the time, or that it meets the threshold,” Plumlee said. “This is a tough one to put into any category. It’s not that cut and dry.”

He added that SKFR does not yet have a price tag of how much the department paid for legal representation; however, a public records request with the fire department is pending and The Mirror will provide those details when the information becomes available later this month.

 

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