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Hennepin Healthcare vows improvements after review into ketamine use on police subjects

The health organization says it will change its procedures.

The results of two reviews into the use of the drug ketamine on people detained by police in Minneapolis have been released by Hennepin Healthcare.

The health organization came under scrutiny last year when a Star Tribune report revealed that the powerful sedative was being used by its EMS responders on possible suspects at the reported encouragement of Minneapolis police, even when it wasn't clear a crime had been committed.

On Thursday, Hennepin Healthcare released two reviews into the use of ketamine, one pf which was by an internal working group, while the other was carried out by independent ketamine experts from Dallas.

Here are some of the key points from the reports, which you can read here:

  • The EMS paramedics who used ketamine to calm agitated subjects in emergency situations "were consistent with national standards and appeared well trained."
  • There's no suggestion that the EMS staff administered the drug at the direction or under the influence of police, with both reports finding no evidence "that Hennepin Healthcare EMS paramedics made different decisions about the use of sedation than they would have in the absence of law enforcement or research protocols."
  • However, the working group reported a situation in which Minneapolis police officers "appeared to threaten a patient with a potential medical intervention (i.e., the administration of Ketamine)."
  • It also found instances where EMS staff "failed to demonstrate the level of professionalism that is expected by Hennepin Healthcare and the public."
  • A memo by assistant Hennepin County attorney Patti Jurkovich revealed she had viewed eight incidents recorded by police body cameras that showed ketamine being administered, and found "the administration of ketamine was medically appropriate and justified in each of the incidents under review." 
  • The suspects who had been sedated with ketamine were then enrolled in a Hennepin Healthcare drug trial to study the sedative's use without giving consent. Hennepin Healthcare CEO Jon Pryor told MPR on Thursday that they followed rules and regulations in terms of this study, but admits they should have "engaged our community more in the research process" as well as being more up front about the use of ketamine as a treatment.
  • But nobody sedated in emergency situations suffered any serious adverse effects, like cardiac arrest, while none of those enrolled in the study were exposed to "more than a minimal risk of harm."

The finding of the reviews are somewhat different from the findings of the Office of Police Conduct report initially shared by the Star Tribune last year, which suggested that police officers had urged EMS paramedics to use ketamine to sedate suspects, 

Improvements to be made

The reports released by Hennepin Healthcare does recommend that changes be made when it comes to the use of ketamine.

These include: 

– Regularly reviewing the records of patients who have been sedated with ketamine before arriving at hospital to ensure that standards are being upheld.

– Enter into a partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness so that EMS paramedics are trained in de-escalation techniques when confronted with patients suffering a mental health crisis.

– EMS staff will have to undergo "implicit bias training" to build trust with communities or color, and "better understand the conditions that have led to fear and a lack of trust of first responders within communities of color."

– The use of restraint devices and techniques that could impede bleeding or circulation must stop as "as soon as safely possible" after the ketamine has been given.

– Further training to ensure paramedics are clear on their roles and the roles of law enforcement in emergency situations, as well as training to ensure they monitor patients properly after the sedative has been given.

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