Two paramedics from Okaloosa County, Florida, were arrested on Thursday under several felony charges, stemming from a “selfie war” using patients, many of whom were unconscious, intubated, or sedated. Christopher Wimmer, 33, turned himself in following the arrest of collaborator Kayla Renee Dubois, 24.
Local news channel WJGH reported that Wimmer faces “seven felonies and a misdemeanor battery charge,” while Dubois is charged with two felonies. Investigators have disclosed that Wimmer and Dubois “used their cell phones to take selfies and videos with patients inside ambulances.” County officials told WJGH that following the incident, “personal cell phones have been banned from ambulances.”
“It was a sick juvenile game, I don’t know any other way to describe it,” said Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley. “It was a game of: Who can be the most vile? Who can I get a picture with? It’s humiliating.” Investigators have also found that Wimmer allegedly “held open the eyelid of a sedated patient for a selfie” and “posed with an elderly woman with her breast exposed.”
Social media is playing an important role in the abuse of patients. NPR published a report this month detailing how many nursing home nurses and aides have been sharing photos of elderly patients urinating or otherwise exposed.
In Hubbard, Iowa, in March, a certified nursing assistant at the Hubbard Care Center shared a photo online “of a nursing home resident with his pants around his ankles, his legs and hand covered in feces.” Many of the incidents identified involved Snapchat. The nursing assistant used the app to share the photo, along with the caption “shit galore,” with six colleagues. He was fired following the incident.
This is only the latest in a series of health care professionals who have violated the tenet to “do no harm.” In June, a physician in Conway, Arkansas, was arrested alleged rape and sexual assault of his patients. Investigators found that Dr. Robert Rook had a record of complaints with the Arkansas State Medical Board dating back to 1990. After a hearing, the board ultimately decided on an emergency suspension of Rook’s medical license.
According to a report published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), these cases are not uncommon. After analyzing over 100,000 disciplinary records from across the United States, they found more than 2,400 physicians who had been sanctioned after sexual misconduct violations that “clearly involved patients.”
Other physicians identified “were disciplined for sexual harassment of employees or for crimes such as child pornography, public indecency or sexual assault.” Many of the doctors the AJC identified were repeat offenders, had not had their licenses revoked for sexual offenses or inappropriate conduct, and were charged for a range of illegal and disturbing behavior, including photographing patients, pressing erections against them during exams, and sexually assaulting patients who were sedated. The AJC found records of physician abuse in every state.
It seems that many state medical boards have been turning a blind eye to exploitation and sexual abuse of patients. Perhaps the AJC’s report and recent arrests of Wimmer and Dubois will help raise awareness and change a broken system.