The United States Postal Service is changing its 911 policy for Postal Service facilities across the nation. The move was prompted by an NBC Bay Area investigation that exposed critical delays in a life and death situation that may have been caused by confusing and outdated rules that govern what to do during medical emergencies.
Last August, Bay Area Postal Service worker Sam Macasieb died after suffering from a head injury at work.
Employees found him on the ground, bleeding from his mouth and ears, inside the Bay Valley District’s processing and distribution center in Oakland. Instead of calling 911 immediately, Macasieb’s coworkers followed policy and summoned additional supervisors and managers to the scene. Those supervisors contacted the on-duty Postal police officer, who finally called 911. According to the policy in place at that time, “Only the Postal police are to contact 911.” Records show up to 53 minutes passed before 911 dispatchers received the emergency call.
A management alert from the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports that the Postal Service is revising the national policy to instruct employees to call 911 immediately in the event of a medical emergency. The OIG credits “attention brought to this issue after a news agency investigation.”
A month after the NBC Bay Area report aired, the Oakland facility changed its policy, instructing employees to call 911 immediately in an emergency. The USPS expects to revise the national policy by the end of April.
“We recommend after they make changes to national policy, that they should make sure each district changes their local policy to match the national policy so that employees can call 911 directly,” said Monique Colter, the audit director for the USPS OIG.
She expects local branches to implement new policies by the end of May.
“Out of a tragedy we’ve had a small victory,” said Rep. Barbara Lee.
Lee represents California’s 13th District, which includes Oakland. She spoke with the Postmaster General about the 911 policy following the NBC Bay Area report.
“I hope the people recognize that we should not allow any government agency to just say no in terms of what needs to be done, and take on what they feel is an injustice,” she said. “This was wrong.”
The OIG reviewed rules across the country and found emergency procedures differ widely depending on the region and facility. The OIG found the national 911 policy was different than the Postal Service employee handbook, which also differed from the rules at the Oakland facility. The OIG also reported that it was not possible to dial 911 from some of the phones inside the Oakland warehouse.
Numerous postal service workers at the Oakland facility also told NBC Bay Area that managers repeatedly warned employees would be responsible for paying the cost of the ambulance if they called 911 for a coworker in need.
“Inconsistent policies could lead to delayed communication with emergency services, which may result in longer response times, confusion and delayed medical treatment,” the report stated.
“Seconds and minutes do make a huge difference in the overall outcome of a patient,” said Oakland Fire Department division manager Stewart McGehee.
His agency responded to the 911 call at the Oakland Postal Service facility. The fire department’s dispatch quality assurance manager reviewed the 911 tape and recommended to the USPS in August to consider a review of the emergency notification procedures.
McGehee said many companies, both public and private, still operate under outdated rules that encourage employees to contact security first instead of calling 911 straight away.
“They should look at their policies and see if they can reduce the complexities of notifying 911,” McGehee said.
The USPS declined multiple interview requests but said in a written statement, “Employee safety, health and wellbeing is a top priority at the U.S. Postal Service.”
For the family of Sam Macasieb, the letter sorting machine operator who worked the overnight shift for nearly 30 years, comfort comes from knowing that his legacy has led to changes that will affect nearly half a million Postal Service employees.
“He must be saying up in heaven that you are doing the right thing,” said Sam’s wife Larnie. “He’s proud.”
If you have a tip for the Investigative Unit, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888-996-TIPS. Email reporter Vicky Nguyen or find her on Twitter or Facebook. You can email producer Liz Wagner or find her on Twitter.