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California man dies after paramedics refused to enter care facility, citing COVID restrictions

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Image Source: Video screenshot

A California man at a long-term care facility died last month after paramedics on the scene refused to enter the building to provide treatment, citing an alleged county COVID-19 restriction — and now the city is investigating the events surrounding his death.

What are the details?

Joseph Angulo, 56, unresponsive and in cardiac arrest, was in desperate need of lifesaving care the night of Nov. 11, but due to what appears to be confusion over an outdated coronavirus health and safety guideline, he may have been prevented from receiving that care.

It is unclear whether Angulo's life could have been saved, but based on the video of his final moments that night, it is clear that more could have been done. Police bodycam video, recently obtained by KTTV-TV, shows a police officer walking the halls of the Rialto Post Acute Care Center. Two Rialto Fire Department first responders are seen standing at the entrance of the facility but refusing to come in.

Paramedics refuse to go into facility due to COVID-19 concerns www.youtube.com

The police officer, Ralph Ballew, can be heard explaining to a clearly exasperated nurse that the paramedics won't enter due to "some [COVID] law" and that the patient had to be brought to them for transport to a hospital. Ballew then helps care facility staff push the bed, which has no wheels, down the hallway and to the waiting paramedics. Nearly five minutes passed.

Angulo was taken to a hospital but was later pronounced dead.

According to the Mercury News, in a police report, Ballew wrote, “Despite being in their line of sight, fire personnel still insisted on [the patient] being brought to them outside before they began life-saving efforts and made no effort to assist me in getting [the patient] outside.”

Ballew stated that at one point, one of the first responders turned to him and said if the care center staff did not like the policy, they “should call their congressman,” the Washington Post reported.

What else?

The release of the police video has sparked concern in the community and resulted in the city launching an investigation. The two paramedics have reportedly been placed on leave pending its results.

KTTV noted that the first responders may have been referring to an April 2020 memo from the San Bernardino County Fire Chief’s Association that stated "all dispatch centers will be requesting the facilities to move patients to the door or outside the location."

But the memo added that "if the patient cannot be transferred to exit for or outside prior to arrival, one member of Fire/EMS personnel should initially interact with the patient."

Others questioned the paramedics' actions given that the memo was from last year and that no similar guideline had been enacted since then.

Rialto City Fire Department's Acting Chief Brian Park called the video footage "troubling," and Rialto Mayor Deborah Robertson said in a statement that she fully supports an independent investigation.

"The investigation will focus on the conduct of the responding Fire Department personnel and the reasons those personnel did not enter the acute care facility immediately," Robertson said. "Our prayers are with the patient’s family, as well as our police officer and care center staff who had to endure such an unimaginable situation."

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to identify the Rialto Fire Department's acting chief as Brian Park, not Ralph Ballew.

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