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Many EMTs’ papers faked

Mass. officials find hundreds skipped hours of retraining

By Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / May 27, 2010

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At least 200 emergency medical technicians and paramedics in Massachusetts and New Hampshire have been practicing without legitimate certification, paying for fake credentials, rather than receiving medical training, state public health officials said.

An ongoing investigation has so far determined that training companies illegally authorized state credentials for first responders in at least a dozen communities, including Boston, the officials said in an interview with the Globe. The probe is expected to continue to grow and include more communities.

“It is extremely disturbing that we would uncover a pattern of falsification of certification for any licensed health care professional,’’ said John Auerbach, Massachusetts commissioner of public health, who added that his agency is still following up on “a number of leads’’ that could uncover more fraudulent medical certifications. “We are determined to identify all of those instances where this has occurred and to put in place a mechanism to prevent this from happening in the future.’’

The state is demanding that improperly certified technicians and paramedics undergo training. Public health officials declined to comment on whether they plan to refer their findings to the attorney general for criminal prosecution. It is illegal to falsify emergency medical training records.

“We are taking aggressive action to make sure people who have deliberately falsified information are appropriately disciplined,’’ Auerbach said.

He said there is no evidence so far that the lack of training resulted in improper or inadequate medical treatment of members of the public. Auerbach said the cases discovered to date have been paramedics or EMTs who faked training records for recertification, meaning they had been trained properly in the past. Paramedics and EMTs must be recertified every two years.

In Boston, 18 firefighters so far have been found to have falsified their training records. According to two city officials briefed on the state’s investigation, some of the firefighters admitted to investigators that they signed up for the training and received certification but never went to class. It was not clear yesterday where they received the certification.

The Boston firefighters were paid for up to 37 1/2 hours of overtime each to attend the training, said the city officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to speak publicly. In some cases, when they were supposed to be attending class, the firefighters gathered and socialized instead, the officials said.

Training requirements range from 24 hours for recertification as a basic emergency medical technician to 36 hours for paramedics. Subjects range from proper resuscitation techniques and skills for moving injured patients to advanced life support and cardiac care. The courses typically cost between $150 and $275, and certification costs an additional $150.

State heath officials regulate the certification process but rely on local trainers to keep accurate lists of individuals who attended the required training and passed certification tests. In the cases of fraud discovered so far, trainers included on their attendance rosters people who did not participate in training.

The state sent a letter last week to medical training providers statewide, warning them of the consequences of falsifying credentials.

“The number one priority for us has been ensuring that at no time is the public health at risk,’’ Auerbach said.

A substantial number of the fraudulently obtained credentials discovered so far were handed out by a training director at a Haverhill-based ambulance company, Trinity Emergency Medical Services, whose EMTs and paramedics respond to calls in Boxford, Groveland, Haverhill, and Lowell, as well as to New Hampshire communities Atkinson, Danville, Hampstead, Newton, and Sandown, state officials said.

The trainer was having EMTs sign an attendance roster and giving them state certification cards without their attending any training, the officials said. So far, investigators have determined that scores of Trinity EMTs may have been involved in the alleged fraud, the officials said.

An operator at Trinity transferred a reporter’s call yesterday to a man who identified himself only as Mike and said, “At this time, no comment.’’

A Boston Fire Department spokesman said the department learned about the falsified medical certifications yesterday.

“The department was told that there are names of Boston firefighters on a list of people that may not have attended classes but were marked present,’’ spokesman Steve MacDonald said. “The department does not have any names or the number of firefighters.’’

Boston Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser vowed a thorough investigation as soon as he has more information.

Boston firefighters, like many Massachusetts first responders , receive extra pay if they are certified as EMTs or paramedics. Of Boston’s roughly 1,400 firefighters, 800 are state-certified EMTs, MacDonald said.

In another case, a training company in Billerica is under investigation on suspicion of falsifying records and issuing EMT certificates to Lexington firefighters and employees of a private ambulance company. The training company, Life Saving Maneuvers, is owned by a Lexington firefighter who has been listed as an EMS instructor at Middlesex Community College.

Lexington’s town manager, Carl F. Valente, has identified the firefighter as Mark Culleton, who also serves as the recertification coordinator for the Lexington Fire Department. Valente told the Globe a few weeks ago that Culleton issued the certificates in question as part of his private business activity.

He said the town is investigating and will immediately remove from duty any paramedic or firefighter without certification.

Culleton’s lawyer said last night that his client was not involved in any way with providing questionable certificates or training to any Lexington firefighters.

“My client has fully cooperated with the investigation, and the matter has been resolved,’’ said the lawyer, Richard Kendall.

In an unrelated but similar scheme uncovered by state public health officials in Hamilton, four people were indicted last year for allegedly providing bogus EMT certifications. The accused included the former police chief, his son-in-law, and a former Ipswich selectman.

Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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