Dr. Paul Hinchey announced his resignation from the position of Travis County Medical Director this morning, Friday, June 19.
The news, delivered to the mayor and members of the City Council via memo from City Manager Marc Ott, ends a six-year stint during which Hinchey’s medical license oversaw clinical care for the entirety of the county’s EMS systems – most notably, Austin-Travis County EMS. His last day will be Sept. 2.
According to the memo, Hinchey is leaving his position to pursue “an incredible career in the private sector” as the president of east coast operations for Evolution Health, a medical practice that specializes in treating high-risk patients through at-home intervention and care. Dr. Jose Cabanas will assume the role of Acting Medical Director upon Hinchey's departure. Ott said he will confer with his executive team in the coming week “to develop our strategy for filling the position permanently.”
Hinchey, who came to Travis County in 2009 after serving as medical director in Wake County, N.C., has been instrumental in installing a series of initiatives that have significantly increased the general public’s ability to administrate bystander CPR. Ott notes that more than 25,000 residents of Travis County are now trained in the practice of “Take 10” compression-only CPR thanks to Hinchey’s efforts. The medical director has also helped ATCEMS – a third-service system – maintain legitimately impressive success rates on critical failures despite a rapidly growing population through his tenure.
Hinchey also faced widespread criticism for many of the decisions he made in office. Specifically, in 2012, he implemented a change to ATCEMS’ staffing model that resulted in ambulances being staffed not with two paramedics but rather one paramedic and one emergency medical technician. Though many emergency medical services employ the model, ATCEMS had grown to be an industry leader on the practice of the two-paramedic trucks, and the decision riled many medics, who believed that Hinchey was sacrificing patient care to fix a chronic staffing problem.
Indeed, as the Chronicle’s May cover story “High Stress at EMS” made clear, the tensions between Hinchey and Austin-Travis County’s paramedics extended well beyond that staffing. Hinchey, who as medical director wielded the utmost power on personnel decisions (he could revoke a medic's credentials to practice if he believed they violated any of the prescribed standards, with no oversight), regularly butted heads with the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Employees Association and their president Tony Marquardt, and was often considered to have very little empathy for the stressful lives of medics. In fact, suspicions from the ATCEMSEA that Hinchey was abusing his power to de-accredit medics had grown so strong over the last three years that Marquardt took to the state Capitol, working with Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, to draft HB 3488, which would afford de-accredited medics a chance to have their hearings heard before the State Office of Administrative Hearings. (Hinchey opposed the bill, telling the Chronicle that it takes the decision out of the medical director’s hands and gives SOAH the chance to “render an opinion that could potentially force me to put back into practice someone I think is a danger to the public.”) On April 22, he introduced a consolation process: a peer review system that would allow an appointed panel of medics to anonymously peruse the facts of each credentialing review. But the ATCEMSEA scoffed at the gesture, considering it to be a flawed fix for a glaring issue. The fractured relationship had shown no signs of mending.
On Friday, after receiving word of Hinchey’s resignation, Marquardt told the Chronicle: “I’m happy with the outcome, whatever brought it on ... While I am optimistic about the future of medical direction our goals of professionalism, fairness of process and oversight have not changed. I look forward to working with the City Manager, City Council and all subsequent medical directors.”
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