KMGH News (Denver, Colo). 2008. Night (10:00 feed)--excerpts, Saving Money or Saving Lives?


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Created: 2008

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KMGH News (Denver, Colo). 2008. Night (10:00 feed)--excerpts, Saving Money or Saving Lives?
Summary: "Frustration was building with the paramedics at Denver's largest publicly funded hospital. They were trying to save people's lives, but the hospital management was more interested in saving money. When paramedics arrived at a medical emergency, they would many times hear 'what took so long'' or 'where have you been'' The same problem affected Denver International Airport -- the fifth largest airport in the country, but the only one without an on-site ambulance. This was the foundation of a series of investigative reports by KMGH-TV in Denver.

"Through courageous sources and months of analyzing computer data, our investigation exposed a hospital failing to provide its most basic and most vital service to the public. This investigation showed how a hospital's budget saving decisions added minutes to its emergency response times. In one case, those minutes were the likely difference between life and death. Our reports brought to light the untold story of Denver's primary trauma center.

"Internally, paramedics had worked unsuccessfully to fix the system and the cultural flaws that were leading to increased response times in Denver. Through a series of emails and meetings KMGH investigators earned the trust of several paramedics who told us about management failures that resulted in an alarming number of dangerous delays.

"The KMGH investigative team followed these meetings by building a network of internal sources. The next move was a series of contentious open records requests. The hospital worked to hide its information. Hospital administrators attempted to shield the truth using federal HIPAA regulations. Ultimately, after several delays, KMGH was able to obtain key data from Denver Health and later from Denver International Airport.

"Weeks of analyzing the data explained why the hospital worked to prevent journalists from accessing the information. KMGH discovered:

  • 12% of the time (more than 1100 emergencies) Denver Paramedics failed to meet the national response standard.
  • 88 emergency calls showed paramedics needed more than 20 minutes. (Double the national standard.)
  • The fifth busiest airport in the country does not have an ambulance stationed on property. The result: an average response time of 15-minutes with the closest ambulance typically 12-miles away.
  • One man died after a 33-minute response time. Records uncovered found in seven other life threatening situations, ambulances from Denver Health needed more than 30-minutes to arrive on scene.

"The KMGH investigation uncovered the problems and their root causes. Denver's City Council and Mayor followed by demanding change and accountability. The series of reports lead to other media coverage and also forced an audit by Denver's city auditor. Denver's Mayor called for solutions and has asked the U.S. Conference of Mayors to push for a national standard. The investigations forced the hospital to review its policies and procedures. A recently concluded report, from a hospital study group calls for a dedicated ambulance at the airport among a series of other changes.

"The months of digging and developing sources resulted in a safer emergency system for the residents of Denver."--2008 Peabody Awards entry form.

First segment is a look at overall ambulance response time in Denver, Colorado. A number of paramedics speak anonymously about the slow ambulance response time. Reporter Tony Kovaleski talks to Dr. Chris Colwell of Denver Health, who says his office should know every time a slow ambulance response has a detrimental impact on patient health. Michael Hancock, President of the Denver City Council says response time must improve. In the next segment, focus shifts to ambulance response time to Denver International Airport (DIA). Includes interview with Bob Petre, president of the Denver Paramedic Union, and with Vickie Elgin, whose husband Mark died of a heart attack at DIA. Also includes interview with Dr. Vince Markovchick of Denver Health, who says the ambulance response time in Mark Elgin's case does not warrant an apology. Another segment on the topic includes additional interview with Vickie Elgin and with Stephanie Thomas of Denver Health. The average response time for ambulances to DIA is 15 minutes; the national standard is less than 9 minutes. In the next segment, Kovaleski talks to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Denver Health auditor Dennis Gallagher, whose audit criticizes the city of Denver for not monitoring Denver Health. Also includes interview with Dr. Gene Moore, Director of Trauma at Denver Health, who says a better response time would be beneficial to patients, and with Denver Health CEO Patricia Gabow, who refuses to commit to improved response time.

Corporate Producers: KMGH (Television station : Denver, Colo.)

Persons Appearing: Tony Kovaleski (Reporter) | Chris Colwell (Interviewee) | Michael Hancock (Interviewee) | Bob Petre (Interviewee) | Vince Markovchick (Interviewee) | Vickie Elgin (Interviewee) | Stephanie Thomas (Interviewee) | John Hickenlooper (Interviewee) | Dennis Gallagher (Interviewee) | Gene Moore (Interviewee) | Patricia Gabow (Interviewee)

Broadcast Date: 2008