Friday, October 01, 2010

As If New Orleans Hasn't Lost Enough...

The City of New Orleans has lost something today. With the resignation of Dr. Jullette Saussy, now former Director of the city’s Emergency Medical Services, our community has lost one of the few people in city administration who upholds the highest standards of integrity and ethics; a quality that few need to be reminded is often sorely lacking in our leadership.

Many, especially the Times-Picayune, are quick to attribute scandal where none exists. Several weeks ago, the T-P “broke” a story regarding Dr. Saussy. In it she was accused of holding a second job while working as Medical Director of EMS. The second job was with Vidacare, supplier of the EZ-IO device, now widely used in many ambulance services. She was also accused of taking donated sick leave from other employees while she was having cancer treatments. To top it all off, she was the highest-paid city employee at around $187,000 per year. All of these “accusations” are true.

So, why do I say that Dr. Saussy upholds the highest standards of integrity and ethics in view of these facts?  Because there was no scandal. Nothing Dr. Saussy did was in any way subterfuge or “under-the-table.” Her second job with Vidacare was cleared and blessed by none other than the city attorney and the Nagin administration. Anyone who wanted to could see that Dr. Saussy was holding another job. Nor is it anything unusual for physicians to hold second jobs. In fact, I cannot think of a single physician I know who does not have another job. Virtually every emergency room doctor I know has a second job; one owns a vineyard, one is a contractor and a lawyer, one has a holistic alternative medicine practice. Even the new acting Medical Director of New Orleans EMS, Dr. Jeff Elder, holds a job at University Hospital. 

Dr. Saussy’s second job did not take time away from her primary function as the city’s EMS Director. I know, because I was there. I witnessed firsthand that never did an issue come up that Dr. Saussy was not available to handle promptly. Therefore, despite the Times-Picayune’s insistence that Dr. Saussy’s second job was some sort of a scandal, it clearly was not.

Vidacare is the supplier of the EZ-IO device, a type of specialized needle that injects fluids and medications into bones rather than into veins. It is particularly useful in emergency situations where vascular access is difficult or impossible to obtain. New Orleans EMS uses the EZ-IO on all of its ambulances and sprint vehicles. Is it scandalous that Dr. Saussy worked for a company that supplies devices that her other job uses? As anyone who is familiar with the purchasing procedure regarding supplies among city services, which I will not describe in its arcane detail, it becomes quickly apparent that no matter whom the products’ representative is, they have no influence on whether the city purchases the product. As far as I know, there is not another device similar to the EZ-IO, and I have personally used it to save the lives of many of the citizens of New Orleans, perhaps even some of those who are so quick to declare “scandal.”

While receiving treatment for cancer, Dr. Saussy was donated hundreds of hours of sick leave by fellow employees. This was done under a policy approved by City Hall for city employees. If anyone has a problem with the donation of sick leave hours, I suggest they take it up with City Hall, the masterminds behind the policy. Many city employees are donated sick leave when they are out for an extended time. Does the Times-Picayune (or anyone else) have a problem with a firefighter being donated sick leave because of broken leg, or a paramedic who is out for an extended time because he contracted a disease from a patient? No? Then why is this practice a problem when Dr. Saussy utilized it? Never were any employees “coerced” or “forced” to donate sick leave, each one of us who donated did so voluntarily. Feel free to investigate the city’s email system (again) in a fruitless search for coercive correspondence. It isn’t there.

The Times-Picayune asserts that city employees complained that Dr. Saussy “quit showing up for work,” according to the Metropolitan Crime Commission. Have they taken into consideration that the offices at “work” consist of two trailers, the same two trailers that EMS has been relegated to since Katrina, one devoted to supplies and the other occupied by the shift supervisors? Where, exactly, was Dr. Saussy supposed to report to work, given the tiny trailers at 300 Calliope, and seeing that her office is actually within City Hall? Further, must we reiterate the fact Dr. Saussy was receiving treatment for cancer? If anyone is fighting for their life, isn’t it vaguely possible that answering phone calls and emails might temporarily take a backseat to survival? If any city employees did, in fact, complain, then shame on them. I hope others show as much mercy to them when they are fighting for their lives.

So you see, the media, specifically the Times-Picayune, has tried to create a scandal where none exists. Dr. Saussy’s salary is a matter of public record. Her outside employment got the thumbs-up from City Hall. It is impossible for her to have influenced anyone in city services to purchase the device she helped to market. And her sick leave donations were part of a policy that City Hall has had in place for years. So where is the scandal? Further, why has Mayor Landrieu and the rest of City Hall asked for her resignation for following the procedures that they, themselves, approve? 

It seems that some of the writers at the Times Picayune have a personal vendetta against Dr. Saussy. Why? We likely will never know. In addition, it is shameful that WDSU grouped Dr. Saussy in with their list of officials who have resigned since Mayor Landrieu took office, including Greg St. Etienne, Joia Perry, and the executives of the Public Belt Railway - all of whom are followed by legitimate, concrete evidence and accusations of wrongdoing.

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I know Dr. Saussy personally. I worked for the city’s EMS system for eighteen years, from 1991 until 2009. Dr. Saussy and I have not always seen eye-to-eye, but in our occasional differences, it was nearly always me that was in the wrong. Dr. Saussy’s mission has always been straightforward: deliver the best care possible to the people of New Orleans, and never do anything to tarnish EMS’ reputation. She not only preached this, she lived it every day. 

The paramedics and EMT’s of New Orleans EMS will continue to serve the public. Under Dr. Saussy’s leadership, and by that I mean genuine leadership, she has transformed our city’s EMS into a world-class example of prehospital care. I hope you remember that when the paramedics show up for you or your family’s crisis. We will care for you in the most professional, technologically advanced way this country has to offer. But for those who rejoice at Dr. Saussy’s departure, we will be ashamed of you.

-Sean H. Fitzmorris, EMT-Paramedic; RN


Raul said...

Well Said

George said...

Well said Sean. We will miss Dr Saussy's expertise too. Capt George Delpidio New Orleans Fire Department Hazardous Materials Unit

Grainne (Grace) said...


Kenneth said...

It's sad for the EMS loss, but Jeff Elder needs the support of EMS employees more than ever to continue Juliette's mission. Jeff is a damn good doctor, and I'm sure he will do great as EMS Director, so give him a chance. Congrats Jeff and god be with you brother. And remember it's about the citizens of New Orleans, and not who's in charge.

Kenny Long