By: Joe Strupp
Exactly two months after veteran New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum was robbed and beaten in an attack that led to his death, questions remain about the care he received from emergency response workers in Washington, D.C.
But it is not just Rosenbaum’s family looking for answers. At least two prominent journalists have written in the past few days about why Rosenbaum, struck in the head on the night of Jan. 6 and found bleeding and vomiting, was not given immediate medical priority, was not taken to the closest hospital, and was reportedly left on a hospital gurney for an hour before receiving attention.
Although two men were arrested within a week of the attack and have been charged with felony murder in the case, both friends and family of Rosenbaum, 63, remain unconvinced that he received the best emergency response and treatment possible.
“We want to make sure that the city does whatever has to be done so that this kind of bad service doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Marcus Rosenbaum, the victim’s only brother and a senior editor at National Public Radio, told E&P today. “Clearly the wrong ambulance came. They sent a basic life-support ambulance instead of an advance life support ambulance.”
But the ambulance choice is just one of the decisions being second-guessed months after Rosenbaum’s death.
Others relate to the initial assessment by EMT personnel at the scene, who wrongly determined Rosenbaum to either be drunk or having a seizure, according to some reports. Other reviews indicate initial treatment of Rosenbaum at the scene failed to determine that he had been the victim of a severe head injury, directing that he be taken to Howard University Hospital instead of a closer emergency room.
“We think that the people who made these mistakes must be held responsible,” Marcus Rosenbaum said. “You don’t want people who can’t do their jobs doing these life and death jobs.”
Along with the family seeking answers is Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King, a Pulitzer Prize winner and deputy editor of the editorial page. King says he has been pushing for information on the case because it represents a serious issue for residents.
“It cries out for an investigation,” King, who has penned a weekly column for 12 years and had a long career in public service prior to that, told E&P. “I didn’t know him, but I know this government and I have written about other things the government has failed to do….
“I had some concerns about the timing and I heard from a source that I should take a closer look at how he was evaluated,” King added. “I started to look at what happened.”
King launched his search for answers on Jan. 16 with an unsigned editorial that demanded several answers to elements of the reporter’s death, including why he was not taken to a closer hospital and why he was given a lower emergency priority. “Nothing less than an independent review with full and complete disclosure of results will satisfy the public interest,” the editorial said.
On Feb. 25, King returned with a stinging column that offered responses from D.C. fire department and emergency medical services officials to requests for information, all of which seemed to indicate procedures were followed. But King also provided some results of his own reporting, including internal documents from EMT and hospital officials that appeared to contradict official findings.
One piece of information King pointed to was the Glasgow Coma Score given to Rosenbaum during his evaluation by EMT personnel. This GCS is a way of labeling the consciousness level of patients with head injuries, from 3 as the worst to 15 as the best, he said. His findings indicated Rosenbaum’s GCS score was 6, indicating a Priority 1 unstable patient.
King’s column reported that Rosenbaum was designated Priority 3, a less-serious, stable assessment. He contends that is likely why Rosenbaum was transported in a basic service ambulance and to a farther hospital.
“Did his treatment by the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department meet all of the standards of care as outlined in the department’s protocols, as the fire chief claimed?” King wrote. “Can a camel curtsy?”
King followed last Saturday with another column citing what he considered less-than-acceptable city responses to his previous concerns, repeating inconsistencies in findings, and citing a medical examiner’s report that indicated Rosenbaum’s death was, at least in part, due to his severe head injuries. While he noted that several internal investigations had begun looking into the care Rosenbaum received, King also warned that city bureaucracies have a history of giving the run around.
“In the immediate aftermath of his death, the public was treated to an official dance — with steps I’ve learned by heart after 16 years of covering the city government — called the D.C. Boogie,” King wrote. He hinted Monday that another column on Rosenbaum may be coming in the future and said he would continue to investigate “until I get to the truth.”
Also weighing in this past weekend was Richard Oppel, editor of the Austin American-Statesman. Oppel, a Rosenbaum friend, noted the questionable response in a column comparing it to a local public official who was given proper treatment in a similar situation.
Oppel called it “a reminder of one more reason why we are fortunate to live in Central Texas. We have first-rate EMS and hospital services.”
Back in Washington, Marcus Rosenbaum said he is glad city officials are investigating his brother’s death, and that two suspects have been caught. He says the D.C. Inspector General, the deputy mayor in charge of the police and fire departments, and the CEO of Howard University Hospital had been in contact with his family.
“I know that there is an investigation underway and they are really pursuing this,” Rosenbaum said. “Have we gotten a detailed response from them? No. But that doesn’t mean we won’t.”
Still, Rosenbaum is reluctant to describe the investigation as complete or thorough. “We are waiting to see, we want to see what the city and Howard University Hospital come back with,” he said, adding that the criminal prosecution of the suspects is also on his mind. “We are really concerned that the people who did this are put away forever because we don’t want them to do it to anyone else,” he added. When asked if the family was considering legal action against the city for its response, Rosenbaum said nothing had been decided. “We don’t know what we’re going to do.”
At the Times Washington bureau, Bureau Chief Phil Taubman declined to comment on concerns about the emergency response. But he said the newsroom had not gotten over Rosenbaum’s death. “It is still a source of sorrow for the Washington bureau,” he said Monday. “Not a day goes by that people are not thinking of David.” He said discussions are underway for the creation of a David Rosenbaum memorial internship.
Except for three years in the 1980s, Rosenbaum had been working in the D.C. bureau since 1968, most recently covering the Social Security debate in 2005. He had retired just days before his death, Taubman said. But his brother contends he was still working as a freelancer for the Times, and was able to use his desk.
“He was there that day,” Marcus Rosenbaum recalls. “He was going to be updating Gerald Ford’s obituary. He was still going in on a freelance basis.” When asked how he and his family were coping two months later, Rosenbaum said, “If you can think of the worst thing that can happen to you, than this is it.”