Monday, July 19, 2010

When a Professional Turns His Back

A few weeks before Christmas, Eutisha Rennix, a pregnant restaurant worker,  collapsed while working.  She started having a seizure and her co-workers were screaming for help. There were two EMT workers in line at Au Bon Pain shop in Brooklyn and they refused to help.  They told on-lookers to call 911 and they walked out of the store after picking up their bagels, presumably because they were on a coffee break. An ambulance was called and the 25 year old woman and her baby girl died shortly afterward.  She is survived by a 3 year old son.

A spokesman for the FDNY said members "take an oath to assist others whenever they are in need of emergency medical care. It is their sworn duty."

That was the last we heard about that horrific story until today.  Jason Green, the EMT who refused to help, was fatally shot near a New York City nightclub last night.  Police believe the shooting was unrelated to the coffee shot incident.

There is no question in my mind that  those of us who have a skill that can potentially save lives, should never be "on a break" in life.  See my prior post on Good Samaritans and the risks involved.  I also wrote about helping a man on a flight I was on.  Surprisingly, not every health professional feels this way and apparently these paramedics felt their coffee break was sacrosanct time.

Altruistic behavior is found throughout the animal kingdom and is thought to have a genetic link.  Are we hardwired for altruism or for selfishness?  One study showed that altering a single gene in a species of bacteria turned resource "cheaters" into cooperative organisms.  And environmental stress promoted a genetic change that favored cooperation.

It is a complicated subject and I've never seen a study on health care professionals and their Good Samaritan or altruistic tendencies.  It would be interesting to see if people act in ways that are congruent with their views on being a Good Samaritan, or if they chose to take their coffee and leave when the chips are down.


stop smoking help said...

As a respiratory therapist, I cannot identify with those who don't help because they're not "on the clock". As health professionals, we're always on the clock. Once you have that BLS card, I really feel it is your duty to use it whenever the call is made. Save a life and then let the chips fall where they may.

Steven Reidbord MD said...

When it comes to bystander intervention, I still recall psychology studies I learned about as an undergraduate. The first principle is "diffusion of responsibility": If someone else is around to handle it, many bystanders will fail to step in. The Kitty Genovese case in the early 1960s illustrated this. Ms. Genovese was stabbed and eventually murdered over a half-hour period while witnesses all assumed someone else would call the police.

The other principle is that "being in a hurry" is a major determinant of altruistic behavior. In one well-known study, time pressure is a more important factor than whether the potential helper is a seminarian, a Boy Scout, or a felon.

Neither of these principles addresses professionals with special skills to help in an emergency. Nor do they excuse the EMTs in this story. But psychology may help to explain their behavior as a combination of personality and situational factors.

Have Myelin? said...

I can't understand how people can turn the empathy off at break time...I mean doesn't it come naturally in the medical field or no...? said...

This is quite a sad story about two heartless professionals. People like that have no business being in that profession to begin with.

I feel that people go into a profession because of the pay, not because they love to do it. In this case, EMT's should love what they do because they impact the lives of others. Sadly, not everyone thinks this way.

I think there should be more people like you that is willing to share good information and help people where ever you are. My passion is helping people also because it's good and it makes me feel good. I'm sure you feel the same way.

Cheers to you and EverythingHealth!

Linda Leighton said...

Very sad!!!

CountryMidwife said...

I know for a fact that I for one could never, ever, turn my back. I hate to say it, but I worry about racism as an issue (does anyone know the race of the EMTs?). So very sad. And a reminder that frankly, karma is a bitch.

tracy said...

Soooo beyond sad.

And what really scares me, is that i am an emt-b, with no real "world experience",(re-certified 2 years ago and haven't worked)- would i even remember what to do, if in a situation when help was needed...or worse, more terrible, would i be too afraid...? i can only pray i would "do the right thing", as well as k n o w what the right thing to do would be....

Scary. :-(

i well remember learning about the the Kitty Genovese case . Horrifying.

KM said...

I remember reading this in the NY Times when it happened and wondered if they would not be allowed to work as EMT's anymore. Do you know if they have licensees like doctors and nurses to be an EMT and if they were taken away, or if they were sued since it was on their time off? I don't know how anyone could possibly live with knowing if they took action she and her baby might have been saved.

BrainDame said...

Sadly, this is not the first nor the last time humans deal cruelly with their fellow humankind...while good hearts are individual (or not as in the case of these EMTs), a sense of community responsibility is societal and unfortunately right now in the US we have failed on that front.

link wheel said...

I used to be wondering what's up with that bizarre gravatar??? I know 5am is early and I am not looking my best at that hour, however I hope I don't appear to be this! I'd nonetheless make that face if I am asked to do 100 pushups. lol Anyway, in my language, there will not be a lot good supply like this.

Coffee, Tea and Heart Disease