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EMT faces criminal charges after reportedly failing to provide care

Melissa Jackson, a New York City EMT, was recently charged with official misconduct for reportedly failing to provide care to a pregnant woman who later died.

Jackson and her partner, Jason Green, were on a coffee break at a Brooklyn Au Bon Pain when workers apparently notified them of an employee — a six-month pregnant woman named Eutisha Rennix — who needed medical assistance. What happened next is under dispute.  Jackson’s lawyer says that Jackson, an EMT dispatcher, immediately called for an ambulance, and that both EMTs remained on the scene until help arrived. He also says that Jackson and Green never saw Rennix, who remained in the back of the store.

Witnesses say that Jackson and Greene called the ambulance, then left after being asked to help Rennix, who had collapsed. Rennix later died as a result of an asthma attack. Her baby did not survive its premature birth.

Rennix’s family is currently suing the city for wrongful death. “We want to let this arrest set an example for the EMS workers across the country — that if you fail to respond, you will be criminally prosecuted,” the family’s lawyer said. (Jackson has not been named in any suits or investigations, as he died in an unrelated incident earlier this year.)

The case has opened up a debate about healthcare workers’ duty to respond. Jackson and Greene were EMTs with the New York Fire Department; according to the NYFD, all members take an oath to help others whenever emergency medical care is needed. But what does “help others” encompass? Are healthcare workers — nurses, EMTs — every really “off duty?”

The Nurse’s Legal Handbook states that the only people with a legal duty to provide care in an emergency situation are those who perform rescues as part of their jobs — emergency responders, police, firefighters, etc. Nurses are not presumed to have a legal duty to provide care —  except in a handful of states (Vermont, Wisconsin, Rhode Island and Minnesota) that have “duty to rescue” laws.

What do you think? Do all healthcare professionals have a moral obligation to respond to medical emergencies? Should that moral imperative be codified into law? Why or why not?

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Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN

Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.

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9 Responses to EMT faces criminal charges after reportedly failing to provide care

  1. Diane Kirse, RN, BSN

    They were on duty and they had an obligation to render aid. They should have gone immediately to see this woman and attempted to assist her. Had it been their day off, then I supposed they have the right to sit there and do nothing. And I understand they were on a lunch break. But they were on duty and they were present at the scene. They had a duty to assist.

  2. nancy

    Heck with legal duty, where was the moral duty?

  3. jerrie

    Over the years, when I see someone acting reckless or I drive by an accident I say a quick prayer and I am so thankful EMSA is there. Now, I’ve been a nurse long enough I could help but being a first responder would be hard.

  4. Susan Morris

    I am an RN in California. The law states that if you are on a coffee break which lasts no more than 15 minutes, it is on company time and you are required to respond to an emergency. If you are on your lunch-break, that is unpaid time and you are off the clock, not on company time and not required to respond. The EMT s were on a coffee break and were on company time and should have responded. If health-care providers were mandated by law to respond to every emergency whether they were on company time or not, our job would last 24 hours!!!! Where is the moral ethic in that? I deserve a break too, considering what I do for a living. Come on folks!!!

    • sue

      II’m a retired P>O> We were paid for our lunch time, therefore, we must take action in an emergency. When you are in uniform, you will draw people on/off duty. They two could have gone to the back to verify the severity of the illness and better assist the responding EMS. Image is everything. Since it was just a “coffeebreak” not full blown lunch, it wouldn’t have hurt. Although you feel you would be on duty 24-7, think how you would feel if it was YOUR daughter and they did nothing else to help.

  5. First if she is an EMT dispatcher and not an EMT what assistance could she provide other than calling for an ambulance? What training does a dispatcher have? If the dispatcher is the same as an EMT then yes she should have assisted but if no then she probably did what she had been trained to do. Yes I am a RN and I have stopped at accidents that have just happened but the first thing I do is call 911. Then when the first responders get there I just step back and let them do their jobs.

  6. Terri

    I agree with Nancy. What about a moral obligation as a human being? I could never sit by and do nothing if there was any possibility I could help. I stop at accidents and do what I can and then let the paramedics take over when they arrive. Yes, everyone deserves a coffee break and/or lunch break. But come on. I couldn’t live with myself if I did nothing.

  7. Judy

    I think people should try and help to the best of their ability. Wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you or your child or loved one? We get breaks and time off. I think in this type of field you have to decide that I am not an accountant and may have to help people in trouble during my personal time. It is a moral duty. It shouldn’t need to legislated.

  8. Your name

    here is the main thing not really covered were they EMT’s or just dispatch. did they have a rig with proper equipment. were they trained on what to do.

    that is stuff to consider before passing judgment on them

    yes I am an EMT I have the training necessary to proficiently do my job.