WORCESTER - A former UMass Memorial EMS paramedic fired for allegedly making a man having a heart attack walk down three flights of stairs and then falsifying the treatment record after the man died in the emergency room - and later lying to a state investigator about what happened - now works for the city as a regional hospital coordinator.
The city's $65,000-a-year chief of epidemiology and health protection, Seth Peters of Paxton, was fired by UMass Memorial in April 2009 after a state Department of Public Health investigation into the death of Charles F. Rondeau, 48, of Worcester.
UMass Memorial last year agreed to pay $1 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by his widow, Joan Rondeau.
Ms. Rondeau and one of her daughters, Aisha Waller, said in interviews this week that they were shocked and disturbed to learn that Mr. Peters was working in a health care capacity for the city and that he is still licensed to work as a paramedic.
When Mr. Peters and fellow paramedic Jonathan Hanson of Princeton were fired by the UMass Memorial ambulance service for their actions on the day Mr. Rondeau died, a Department of Public Health official said the case had been referred to the agency's general counsel for suspension or revocation of the men's state EMT certifications.
"We thought those two lost their licenses for lack of doing their jobs. At least that was a little bit of, I don't know, conciliation that they wouldn't be out there not doing their jobs any more and making up lies," said Ms. Rondeau, a certified nursing assistant who works with the elderly.
The DPH's former top emergency medical services regulator, Abdullah Rehayem, said at the time, "We don't often see falsification of documents. What the EMTs had done was severe enough for us to make the recommendation we made in the report."
Mr. Peters did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages Tuesday.
Their punishment from the state, which the DPH appears to be in no hurry to reveal, would turn out to be far from severe.
The Telegram & Gazette asked DPH officials more than a week ago whether the certification of either paramedic was ever suspended or revoked, but neither spokesman David Kibbe nor spokeswoman Anne Roach have provided any information about the license histories of the two paramedics.
However, Mr. Hanson's deposition in the wrongful death lawsuit shows that his state EMT certification was never revoked and that a settlement agreement he signed with DPH's Office of Emergency Medical Services only required him to take brief refresher courses, which he completed in a few days time, before returning to a new job as a part-time paramedic for the town of Barre about a week later.
"From the time they notified me or that we agreed on the settlement to the time that I received a letter saying that it was all cleared was about a week. The training was completed in a matter of days," Mr. Hanson told the Rondeau family's lawyer, Nicholas Cappiello, in a May 2011 deposition.
He had started the Barre EMS job a few months after being fired by UMass Memorial, while state disciplinary action was still pending.
Mr. Hanson said in the deposition that he completed the refresher courses with Mr. Peters as part of his settlement agreement.
On Tuesday, the T&G filed a formal request with DPH under the state Public Records Law for copies of the settlement agreements between the agency and both paramedics.
In addition to his city health department job, Mr. Peters was appointed in June 2010 as a part-time, on-call paramedic by the town of Leicester, where one of Mr. Rondeau's daughters now lives with her children and fiance.
"It disturbs me that, with the actions they took with my dad, they'd still be working in the same field. And one of them so nearby," Ms. Waller said at her Leicester home on Monday. "I thought they had their licenses revoked. I guess they got to go back to the way things were before coming into my father's life. But we don't get to go back to the way things were before."
It was Ms. Waller who first noticed in her father's medical records that Mr. Peters had falsely reported that he and Mr. Hanson carried Mr. Rondeau down from the third floor in a special device called a stair chair. The family filed a complaint with the DPH after they felt UMass Memorial didn't take seriously their inquiries about why a man so clearly in distress would be made to exert himself by walking down three flights of stairs while steadied by paramedics.
When pressed by the state investigator, Mr. Peters and Mr. Hanson eventually admitted that Mr. Rondeau, in fact, had not been carried down from the third floor in the stair chair. The paramedics told the investigator that they didn't use the stair chair because Worcester firefighters hadn't yet arrived to help them carry it, according to the state investigation report.
That turned out to be false as well.
The state investigator, Renee Lake, determined through dispatch records that Worcester Fire had arrived at the Winfield Street three-decker five minutes before the UMass ambulance.
Worcester Fire Department audio recordings showed that Capt. John Horan of Engine 4 had radioed the ambulance from the Rondeau's apartment to notify the paramedics en route that the patient was experiencing severe chest pains, difficulty breathing, profuse sweating and had a history of heart disease.
Mr. Rondeau was not a large man at 5-foot-7-inches tall and about 160 pounds, family said.
In his city job, Mr. Peters has a role coordinating between area hospitals and EMS providers, including UMass Memorial, which fired him and later settled the family's lawsuit for $1 million, and the DPH, which initially sought to discipline him for his conduct.
UMass Memorial spokesman Robert Brogna declined to comment.
Robert F. Wilson, executive director of Leicester EMS, did not return telephone or e-mail messages Tuesday. Barre Town Administrator Heather Lemieux also could not be reached Tuesday.
Worcester's acting public health commissioner, Dr. Michael P. Hirsh, who is also a surgeon at UMass Memorial Medical Center, referred questions about Mr. Peters to a city spokeswoman, who in turn provided a written statement from the city's director of human resources, Kathleen Johnson.
"We are confident this matter was addressed and resolved. In his position within the Division of Public Health as chief of epidemiology, Mr. Peters is an exemplary employee who fulfills his city role with high marks," Ms. Johnson wrote.
But the matter of her husband's death on Mother's Day in 2008 is far from resolved for Ms. Rondeau.
"Yes it is going on five years, but, in my heart and in my thoughts, it seems just like it was yesterday. It's still at times hard for me to believe that he's no longer here. We try to talk about him as much as we can. We tell my youngest granddaughter, who never got to meet him, about her grampy all the time," Ms. Rondeau said.
"The sad part is that my youngest daughter, who lives with me, is the one that looks most like my husband," she added. "Her daughter looks just like him. That's hard, but it's also joyous for us. For always, he will be with me. I was with him since I was 21. He would be 54 this year."