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Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday said that the “biggest shock” of Dr. Jullette Saussy‘s resignation as medical director of D.C.’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services agency was that she didn’t give “adequate notice.”
“Nothing really shocks me,” Bowser said when asked if she was “shocked” at Saussy’s departure, reported Tuesday. “I will tell you that I’ve dealt with a lot of professionals and we’ve recruited a lot of great people, and we want to continue to do that. We expect members of our team to be professional and have the interests of the District first.”
Saussy, a recruit from New Orleans hired under Bowser-appointed FEMS Chief Gregory Dean, sent a letter to the mayor dated Jan. 29 characterizing the department’s culture as “highly toxic” and stating that “people are dying needlessly because we are moving too slow.” As of this week, Saussy had been on the job for a little over half a year. In her letter, she alleges that FEMS suffers from a “lack of accountability,” refusing “to measure true performance.”
At a press conference Wednesday held after the mayor’s unveiling of a new homeless shelter designed for women in Ward 2, Bowser said her adminstration did not expect to solve FEMS’ problems within several months. She added that the District would appoint an interim medical director for the department and eventually recruit one who is “committed to the system in D.C., and the commitment is going to take longer than six months.” Asked whether she knew if Saussy was “unhappy” in her role at FEMS before sending her resignation letter in January, Bowser replied:
I know that Dr. Saussy wants a third-service in the District that she wants to lead outside the fire department. Now, that question has been asked and answered in the District of Columbia, and Dr. Saussy was recruited to work within our system.
Last year, the D.C. Council approved emergency legislation authorizing the District to contract with an ambulance provider that could bulk up the city’s overstretched fleet and personnel. (That plan is still being implemented.) On Wednesday, Bowser said the measure will address the current shortage of ambulances in D.C. and shore up FEMS personnel training. “For too long what we found was that instead of a monthly training, people were getting a once a year or twice a year training, and we don’t think that’s adequate,” she said, adding, “we have to make more time.”
Saussy’s resignation comes after FEMS saw a record number of 911 calls last year and varied reports of emergency responders not getting to patients in time. Bowser said her administration has worked to strengthen accountability.
“We have been transparent where we have found mistakes,” she said. “In fact, [we] investigat[ed] them—nobody asked us to—we made those internal investigations and we made personnel accountable. So, the culture of accountability, I believe, has dramatically changed in our system.”
Dean, the FEMS chief, was appointed last year, having formerly worked in Seattle.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery