I-Team special report: When Moments Matter

I-Team special report: When Moments Matt

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif.- - When you call 911, there are certain expectations.  The call is answered quickly.  Help is sent immediately. And, if necessary, the operator stays on the line and gives some medical advice. 

A Cathedral City couple reached out to News Channel 3's I-team reporter Karen Devine after they say the treatment they received from a 911 dispatcher left them stunned and concerned for their community.

"My mom was in my arms she couldn't breathe and I couldn't help her and I felt helpless," says Joan Goldman. 

She and her husband Mark say the last moments of their love one's life turned more frantic and chaotic after calling 911 for help.

In the first of four calls to 911in the early morning of November 14, 2018, Mark Goldman expressed his concern for his mother-in-law telling the 911 operator she was having trouble breathing.  Goldman felt the dispatcher was short and quick to get off the phone. 

"I thought maybe she would ask me what type of breathing or you know, is she having chest pains, anything, you know it was just "we're on our way," said Goldman. 

As Joan's 91 year old mother was gasping for air,  Mark made a second call to 911 asking how long it was going to take for help to get there.  Again, Mark said the woman on the other end of the line was rude and quick to get off the phone. 

The third call was made by Joan and she didn't hold back, wanting to know why she wasn't getting medical advice to help save her mother.  The dispatcher said she is not allowed to give medical advice and help was on the way. 

"The last moments of my mother's life with me, I should have been telling her I love her, not arguing with the lady on the 911 call."

A fourth call to 911 was logged but there was no audio on the file. 

I-team reporter Karen Devine sat down with Cathedral City's Interim Police Chief Anthony Yoakum to find out what the protocol is inside the City's dispatch center. 

"We're the busiest in the Valley here, the call volume that we handle are more than other agencies around us.  And, we not only cover Cathedral City police we handle Desert hot Springs police and our Fire department," says Yoakum. 

Karen Devine brought the concerns directly to 
Cathedral City's Interim Police Chief Anthony Yoakum and the Fire Chief Paul Wilson.

While they wouldn't comment on the Goldman's case, they both told Devine the 911 operator is not required to stay on the line until help arrives and medical advice is not given over the phone. But, that's about to change.

"The state has required that any department that dispatches medical personnel or resources to a call that by 2022 you'll have the training and equipment that you need to be able to stay on the phone with that person and give them medical advice," says Yoakum. 

Yoakum says they're hoping to move that timeline up, shooting for December 2020. The City Council just approved a new computer system with updated software last wednesday.

They're hoping to get it up and running along with more training in the next 18 months.  That will also include an increase in staffing, eventually.   Right now there are only three people taking calls at any given time.

"They're just to the point that their staffing is so constrained they almost can't take breaks or lunches because it only leaves two so we really want to improve that so that it's running more functional," says Cathedral City's Fire Chief, Paul Wilson.

Inadequate Staffing is just one of the concerning findings of an independent study that evaluated the emergency communications center in January. 

Also found was a need to update training programs and a need to upgrade computer aided dispatch and records management systems. 

And, while dispatchers met state recommended standards of answering 95% of 911 calls within 15 seconds, the City should implement a wellness program to address stress-related issues dispatchers endure.

The study was presented to the City Council by the Police Department. 

Interim Chief Yoakum gave Devine a tour inside the Dispatch Center to explain how they handle nearly two hundred thousand calls a year. 

"The dispatchers helped pick out the new equipment to help do their jobs more efficiently, says Yoakum."  

"What we'd like to get to, we'd like to get to where we have a dedicated 911 call taker that only takes 911 calls and then have police and fire dispatchers which can give appropriate dispatch information and pre arrival instructions," say Cathedral City Fire Chief, Paul Wilson.

The Goldmans still mourn but are hopeful. Devine asked if they blame the 911 operator for the death of Joan's mother. 

"No, absolutely not, I don't blame anybody for my mom's death she was 91, she lived a wonderful life, it could have been a much more peaceful way to let her go if I had someone on the other line with a little more compassion." 

In researching the response time by fire and paramedics that November morning, help arrived at the Goldman's just over 9 minutes from the time of the first 911 call. No one is disputing that they got there fast enough and did everything they could to save a life.

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