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Hillsborough paramedics 'failed to deliver adequate care' to stroke victim, internal review finds

Allen Hicks, 51, died Aug. 7, 2012, after slipping into a coma at Tampa General Hospital.

Allen Hicks, 51, died Aug. 7, 2012, after slipping into a coma at Tampa General Hospital.

TAMPA — A Tampa man who died from a stroke that went untreated at Hillsborough County jails should never have been incarcerated, but instead taken to a medical facility, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue officials concluded in a review of the agency's role in the troubling episode last year.

The inquiry found that Allen Daniel Hicks Sr., 51, "should have been transported to a local hospital" and that a paramedic "had several indicators that should have alerted him to the potential conditions affecting the patient," according to a memo by Fire Rescue Quality Management Chief Todd Carnell.

The two paramedics implicated in the review, Brad Jorgensen and Axel Figueroa, and Fire Rescue Capt. Jim Stephens, who was also present, were verbally counseled on how to better handle similar incidents in the future. Jorgensen additionally received an "informal counseling" that was recorded in his personnel file.

"All crew members … appeared truly remorseful for the incident that led to this fact finding," Carnell wrote in his July 2012 memo, which was obtained this week by the Tampa Bay Times.

The internal Fire Rescue records shed further light on Hicks' last days, which are now at the center of a lawsuit by Hicks' estate against Hillsborough County, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Richard Guzman.

Tampa lawyer Paul Rebein, who is representing Hicks' estate in the federal lawsuit, said the documents highlight the inadequate care Hicks received, in particular the fateful overlooking of classic stroke symptoms such as disorientation and weakness on one side of the body.

"It appears to me that the medical people were just not even considering a stroke," he said. "I question whether they're adequately trained."

Rebein also questioned whether the discipline meted to rescue workers was sufficient.

"This guy died over this," he said. "That seems to be a pretty light punishment."

Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jessica Damico declined to comment on the internal review, referring questions about the suit to Robert Brazel of the Hillsborough County Attorney's Office. Brazel declined to comment on the case because it is pending.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has already paid Hicks' heirs a wrongful-death settlement of $200,000, in addition to $800,000 paid by Armor Correctional Health Services, the private company that provides medical care to county prisoners.

Hicks, a popular youth baseball coach, veered into the left guardrail in the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 near Bearss Avenue on May 11, 2012. Passers-by called 911.

He was examined at the scene by Fire Rescue workers. Because he did not respond to commands to exit his stopped car, he was arrested and taken to the Orient Road Jail by Guzman, the Highway Patrol trooper.

Hicks was booked without a medical screening and placed in cells where he lay face down or tried to crawl using only the right side of his body. Roughly 36 hours passed before he was diagnosed with stroke symptoms and taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he slipped into a coma and died on Aug. 7.

The lawsuit asserts the paramedics and Stephens "breached the standard duty of care" by "failing to properly assess (Hicks') medical condition" and "failing to ensure that (Hicks) was immediately taken to the hospital for treatment."

Those allegations appear to find some support in Hillsborough Fire Rescue's internal review, which found Jorgensen was "not using the proper medical protocols that would have led him to have the patient transported … to the hospital" and "failed to deliver appropriate patient care."

Jorgensen described his interactions with Hicks at the scene in a letter to a supervisor. When questioned, he wrote, Hicks would "ramble on about another subject that wasn't relevant to this situation."

He wrote that when he tried to check Hicks' blood sugar, Hicks refused, voicing fears that he might contract AIDS from the needle.

Figueroa wrote in his own letter that Hicks was "revealing psychotic-like behavior" and that he and Jorgensen agreed Hicks should be transported to St. Joseph's Hospital for psychiatric evaluation.

Hicks refused an ambulance, Figueroa wrote, and the paramedics placed him in Guzman's custody.

The Highway Patrol trooper then took Hicks to jail instead of to the hospital.

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3337.

Hillsborough paramedics 'failed to deliver adequate care' to stroke victim, internal review finds 07/25/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 2, 2013 1:31pm]
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