Ambulance service racked by nasty internal conflict

  • 2005-11-16
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - Vilnius medical authorities sank into turmoil last week over allegations that ambulance crews took bribes from funeral parlors in exchange for corpses.
On Nov. 11, current head of the ambulance service, Rimantas Sagzdavicius, allegedly uncovered the "body business" that his employees had been running, while in the meantime paramedics went on strike calling for Sagzdavicius' dismissal.
Sagzdavicius is under investigation on charges of squandering 1.5 million litas (430,000 euros).

Some paramedics at the Vilnius ambulance service reportedly earn cash on the side by providing information to funeral parlors about deceased patients, Sagzdavicius claimed. "The employees of our institution were demanding money from certain funeral providers," he told journalists in a press conference.

"The police are investigating the cases of inadequate or negligent medical assistance resulting in the death of individuals," he said. "There were seven such cases over a period of 18 months."

Having discovered the business of his subordinates, the head of Vilnius ambulance service informed law enforcement institutions. The representatives of the Police Department confirmed that Sagzdavicius did pay a visit to them and spoke about the dirty business; however, having checked the facts, the officers didn't find enough evidence to launch pretrial investigation.

Nevertheless, investigators did confirm that there had been several cases in Vilnius when corpses had been removed prior to police's arrival to the scene of an accident. According to the police, ambulance service employees removed the bodies in these instances.

Emergency room personnel allegedly cut a deal with funeral companies for each "client" they delivered. The sum reportedly amounted to 250 litas for each corpse.

A similar scandal recently erupted in Poland, where ambulance crews were also accused of profiting from dead bodies. There was even a suggestion that some doctors let patients deliberately die in order to get more financial profit. Two doctors from Lodz have been arrested and charged, several other people have been detained.

In the press conference, Sagzdavicius named chairman of the ambulance trade union Tadeusz Rodz as one of the doctors allegedly involved in the "body business."

The union chairman is a harsh critic of Sagzdavicius and the organizer of the protest action demanding the director's dismissal.

Rodz strongly denied the accusations that patients were given inadequate or negligent medical assistance in order to put them to death. "Now they accuse our staff of special injections and putting people to death. There has been none of that. There are no such facts," he said. " [Sagzdavicius] says this in order to turn the attention away from the problems that we started speaking about."

Rodz-led members of the trade union staged a protest in front of the Vilnius municipality to demand the removal of what they called their "prodigal director."

Emergency crew claims that the head of the emergency room had been wasting large amounts of money on Internet sites, coffee machines and chairs.

"We can no longer tolerate this. If the debts were covered we could start everything from the beginning. Residents of Vilnius may suffer because the private company that rents cars to the emergency crew might soon not do this because the ambulance has debts. In that case we'll have to go to our patients by bikes or motorbikes," Rodz said.

The Chief Police Commissioner's Office is conducting a pretrial investigation over the alleged embezzlement.

During the strike, paramedics also demanded that authorities upgrade the fleet of ambulances, which last happened a decade ago. Unless their demands are met, the strikers vowed to take stricter action 's collectively quitting their jobs.