State investigates complaints against San Juan Island EMS chief

Two anonymous complaints were filed against San Juan Island Emergency Management Services Chief Jerry Martin, according to two letters from the Washington state Department of Health addressed to him.

“By law, I have 130 days to complete the investigation,” said Mike Friebel, health care investigator of the Office of Investigative Services, assigned to the cases.

Friebel was unable to comment any further as to specifics of the complaints, or when he may finish the investigation, due to the fact they are ongoing investigations.

“It is a sit-back-and-wait situation,” said Hospital District Commissioner Chairman Michael Edwards, explaining the letters did not say who filed the complaints or what events they are regarding.

Martin is expected to retire by the end of this year.

The first letter dated Nov. 7 states:

“The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Emergency Medical and Trauma Prevention of the Department of Health has initiated a complaint against you for your failure to comply with the continuing education requirements in accordance with WAC 246-12-190 and 246-12-200.”

Washington Administrative Code, or WAC, 246-12-190 and 246-12-200 references auditing for training compliance, and the protocol for auditing. For the full text of the statute, visit

The second letter, dated Nov. 26 says:

“The Office of Emergency and Medical and Trauma Prevention within the Department of Health have received a complaint alleging unprofessional conduct on your part as defined in RCW 18.130.180. The complaint alleges incompetence, negligence or malpractice.”

The RCW 18.130.180 is titled “Unprofessional Conduct,” and references everything from not furnishing proper paperwork, like certifications, to malpractice, negligence and fraudulence. To read the full RCW, visit

Edwards stated he became aware of the notices after being copied on an email between Martin and the district’s lawyers on Dec. 3.

“They were very preliminary notices,” Edwards said, noting that there is a possibly the outcome of the investigations will show a lack of substance to the claims. Then again, it could also turn up the opposite.

“We just don’t know,” Edwards said.

Hopefully, the cases will be resolved quickly, Edwards said. However, he noted, Friebel has hundreds of claims he is currently working. This means it could take several months before more information is known.

Edwards said he was disappointed in the situation, he was not surprised as someone had told the board that they were going to file a complaint.

“That doesn’t mean he did, he could have changed his mind, and the notices do not say who filed them. I’m just saying I am not surprised because someone said they would,” Edwards clarified.

According to commissioner Rebecca Smith, the full board of hospital commissioners as well as two county paramedics were included on an email in November from Dr. Michael Sullivan, the San Juan County medical program director, stating that he was asked to submit a complaint to the Washington state Department of Health. The email, Smith said, did not say who had asked him, why he felt obliged to comply or what the complaint would be about.

Commissioner Anna Lisa Lindstrum, however, although aware of ongoing issues, was surprised when she and other commissioners learned of the letters during the Dec. 18 regularly scheduled board meeting after a citizen, Richard Grout, mentioned the letters.

Grout learned of them after Martin made a comment during a commission meeting, he said, and retained copies of them through a public records request.

“The board has a responsibility to the community to provide oversight and right now I feel like I can’t say we are doing that,” Lindstrum said, since the board as a whole was not alerted to the complaints, which makes her uncomfortable.

Martin has not submitted his resignation to the board, however, he is expected to retire by the end of the year, and a severance package was built into the district’s 2019 budget. The commissioners will be interviewing candidates for his replacement starting at 1 p.m. on Jan. 10, at the Frank Wilson Memorial EMS Building.

“We will be briefly addressing the complaints as well, and provide any updates if there are any,” Edwards said.