Canton Twp. 911 operators suspended amid allegations they ignored emergency calls
Canton Township — Two emergency dispatchers were suspended amid allegations they ignored 911 calls because one of the operators was "having a bad day."
The suspensions of dispatchers Rachel Rowell and Joshua Choroba came after attorneys for a Belleville woman filed a lawsuit, claiming medical staff was unable to get help last year for her late husband while he was dying of a heart attack because the 911 operators shut off the telephone.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Wayne County Circuit Court, one of the dispatchers decided to turn off the phone's ringer because she "was having a bad day."
Dorothy Greene and the estate of her late husband are suing the operators after employees of the Heartland Health Care Center in Canton dialed 911 13 times on March 1 without getting an answer while her husband, 69-year-old Stephen Greene, was having a heart attack, the lawsuit said. He died the next day.
"Mr. Greene ultimately died because the multiple, continuous pleas for emergency medical treatment made by those around him were disregarded," said the nine-page lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday. The complaint seeks $25 million in damages.
The defendants didn't have attorneys listed Wednesday on the Wayne County Circuit Court website.
“The bigger questions are: Who else was hurt by this? Was anyone else injured or killed? And how is it they allowed someone like this to be in that position?" Greene's attorney John Marko told The Detroit News. "This isn’t like trash collection; this is someone who is fielding life or death calls and trying to get help for people in need.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, Canton Township Corporation Counsel Kristen Kolb said officials investigated the incident and suspended the two dispatchers.
“The missed 9-1-1 calls were reported to a supervisor the same morning of occurrence. ... The investigation quickly determined one of the named former employees turned down the volume on the 9-1-1 telephone speaker causing the calls to be missed leading to an 8-minute delay in service," Kolb said.
“The two named former employees under investigation were suspended from the department after the internal investigation revealed significant policy violations and evidence of possible criminal conduct," she said.
“The actions of the responsible named former employees are inconsistent with the training, policies and practices of the Canton Department of Public Safety," Kolb said. "Additionally, corrective measures have been put in place, and further measures continue to be evaluated by the department to prevent an incident such as this from occurring again."
Officials from Canton issued the following statement in response: “As this matter is in litigation, the Charter Township of Canton will not be answering any questions or making any additional statements.”
Stephen Greene was admitted to the Heartland center to rehabilitate Feb. 27, 2018, after he'd been admitted to a hospital nine days earlier "with altered mental status secondary to marked hypoglycemia," the suit said.
"On March 1, decedent began suffering from a severe heart attack," the lawsuit said. "Numerous calls were made to 911 by Heartland Health Care employees in order to get medical assistance to decedent.
"However, unbeknownst to decedent or the Heartland staff, Defendant Rachel Rowell had turned the volume completely off on the 911 emergency telephone line because she was having a 'bad day' and no longer wanted to answer emergency calls," the lawsuit said. "Joshua Choroba assumed Defendant Rowell’s dispatch duties and
the ringer on the 911 emergency telephone line remained off.
"Because of this, Defendants were unable to hear when Heartland staff called on behalf of decedent, and subsequently was unable to dispatch an ambulance to provide medical assistance or transport to decedent," the lawsuit alleges. "Decedent did not receive critical treatment in time and, due to the delay between the onset of his heart attack and receiving any type of treatment, he ultimately died."
"The City of Canton, by and through its 911 Dispatch Emergency Operators, endangered the lives of its 91,000 citizens — the very people the operators had sworn to serve and protect," the lawsuit said. "These Emergency Operators unbelievably and alarmingly decided to turn off the 911 dispatch phone so that they did not have to do the job they had sworn and gotten paid to do; one dispatcher stating she did so because she was having a bad day. Her day was not as bad as ... Stephen Greene."