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Public safety director reacts to complaints about Denver Health paramedic response times

Armando Saldate says changes are necessary
Saldate photo.jpg
Posted at 5:27 PM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 23:38:22-05

DENVER — After reports of complaints from Denver firefighters surfaced regarding the response times of Denver Health ambulances, Denver’s new executive director of public safety said that operational changes are necessary.

“The system needs to be fixed,” said Armando Saldate, who was approved Tuesday by Denver City Council as the city’s new executive director of public safety after serving in the role in an interim capacity since January.

Denver7 Investigates highlighted complaints from Denver Fire firefighters in internal emails about lengthy response times from Denver Health paramedics on calls. The emails were obtained by Denver7 Investigates in an open records request and state that firefighters waited, in some cases, up to 30 minutes for a Denver Health ambulance to arrive. In other situations, an ambulance wasn’t available to respond to the call.

A veteran Denver firefighter, who spoke to Denver7 Investigates anonymously, said there’s been a lack of accountability for Denver Health on this issue.

“We need to make some changes and make things better,” the firefighter said.

Saldate said he’d like to develop a formal policy and mechanism for those types of responses so he learns about them prior to when they appear in news stories.

He also responded specifically to a Nov. 28, 2021, email from a firefighter that was included in the records received by Denver7 Investigates. In that email, a firefighter expressed concern after a Denver Health paramedic supervisor, who had arrived on scene in an SUV, advised a domestic violence victim with a head injury to walk to a nearby hospital because it would take time for an ambulance to arrive on scene.

“This, on its face, this is troubling,” Saldate said. “That’s one of the glaring problems here.”

In a previous interview with Denver7 Investigates, Denver Health Chief Paramedic Gary Bryskiewicz said he felt the system worked perfectly when asked about that call. He also said that he’s always looking for the paramedic division to improve.

“We need to figure out what is the root cause of the problem and fix it,” Saldate said.

In a statement from Denver Health, the organization said it is committed to working with Saldate and his department. The organization also plans to add four new ambulances and 33 personnel to the paramedic division this year.

Denver Health previously acknowledged that it failed to meet the response-time goal – based on national best practices among paramedic divisions – of nine minutes in 90% of its calls in 2021. However, the statement says that it has met that goal in 12 of the past 14 years, and its average response time in 2021 was six minutes 50 seconds.

See the full statement here.