911 board votes to terminate Director Gay Murrell for breach of contract

911 Board Chairman Mike Herrell (left) and Central Dispatch Director Gay Murrell (right) are seen here at the January board meeting.

Following months of conflict between 911 Central Dispatch Director Gay Murrell, members of the 911 board and various Hawkins County Officials, the 911 board voted at their March 12 meeting to terminate Murrell for breach of contract.

Chairman Mike Herrell reported to the board on March 12 that Murrell had allowed dispatchers who had not yet obtained EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatching) certifications to answer emergency 911 calls.

This is actually the second time in just a few months that this issue has occurred.

Readers may remember back in November when questions surrounding the EMD certifications of several HCECD (Hawkins Co. Emergency Communications District dispatchers) resulted in all staff having to be re-certified by an onsite instructor. A full training audit of all staff members also took place because more than half were said to be non-compliant with EMD certifications.

Though all staff were back in compliance with EMD certifications in just a few days, this process cost the HCECD around $8,800 and could easily have led to legal ramifications.

As a result, board member David Good made a motion at a subsequent meeting to suspend Murrell without pay for 10 days. Though his motion was voted down, Murrell was later reprimanded and a letter was placed in her permanent file noting the incident.

What is EMD training?

According to information obtained by the Review, an EMD program is administered under the direction of a medical director (medical doctor or physician’s assistant). Training can be done in-house, using certified curriculum, or may be contracted out to a private provider of such training.

When a person calls 911 with a medical complaint, the dispatcher goes to a complaint guide card and it directs the dispatcher to ask specific questions about that person’s complaint.

Depending on how the questions are answered results in how the dispatcher sends an ambulance — emergency or non-emergency.

The guide card also has specific pre-arrival instructions for the caller depending on the medical complaint. Pre-arrival instructions can be something as simple as “gather the patient’s medications”, or as important as pre-hospital CPR, talking someone through childbirth, or instructing a person that may be having a heart attack to take aspirin before the ambulance gets there.

Someone who is not EMD certified is basically a lay person advising an ambulance if they need to respond emergency or non-emergency to a medical complaint, the Review’s source said.

Non-certified dispatchers answer emergency calls

Herrell told the board that he witnessed new dispatchers who were hired after the November incident and had not yet completed EMD certifications answering emergency 911 calls.

He told the Review that, from his understanding, dispatchers who have not yet received EMD certifications can answer calls with trainer supervision; however, he witnessed these dispatchers do so with no supervision and no certification.

“These employees were going through training, but they were not trained far enough to be answering 911 calls,” Herrell told the Review. “We (the board) hasn’t had a meeting in two months, but I have been up there (at Central Dispatch) within that two months, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve also heard it on the scanner. I’ve got proof of it plus we’ve got it recorded, so I can prove that they were answering 911 calls. I have witnessed it myself several different times over the last two months.”

According to Herrell, Murrell’s employment contract specifies that she is responsible for ensuring all staff is appropriately trained.

When Herrell reported to the board what he had seen, he told the Review that they then asked for his recommendation on how to move forward.

“I gave a report to the board, they asked my recommendations, and I recommended either to terminate her or give her 30 days off work, and the board went with termination,” he said.

Two of the nine board members, Sheriff Ronnie Lawson and Tony Fugate, were absent from the meeting. Of the remaining seven, only Lawrence Wheeler voted against Murrell’s termination.

Murrell not present at March 12 meeting

Herrell told the Review that the board will likely have a special-called meeting some time this week, though the date has not been set.

“The board’s got to decide how we’re going to proceed to hire a new director,” Herrell said. “We’ve got to move fast, because we’ve got to get a director back in place.”

Murrell was not actually present at the March 12 meeting, as she’d gone home sick on Thursday. She was allowed to remove her personal belongings from the office Friday morning, but she hadn’t received any separation paperwork or official reason for the termination from the board.

“My attorney has advised me not to comment at this time,” Murrell has said in published reports. “I don’t have a separation notice. I don’t have my final paycheck. I don’t have any type of documentation whatsoever. He (Herrell) didn’t know when he would be able to get me that.”

Herrell told the Review that Murrell has also been given 15 days to appeal the decision.

“We gave her 15 days to appeal it since she wasn’t at the meeting,” he said. “She will have a chance to come back to the board and defend herself if she wants it.”

Moving forward

In the meantime, the board voted Caitlin Smith over operations and Chucky Johnson over administration until a new director is hired. Both previously worked at Central Dispatch as dispatchers.

In regard to when the board plans to hire a new director, Herrell said “that’s up to the board to decide how long we’re going to advertise for the position. Then, we’ll have to go through the interview process. Just like anything else, we have to go through a process.”

Central Dispatch still under investigation by state comptroller

Hawkins Co. Mayor Jim Lee also told the board at their January meeting that he had turned in Central Dispatch bank statements for the past three years to the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury on Jan. 8, 2020, regarding unspecified “inconsistencies” which the Mayor claims he noticed in those documents.

“The Comptroller worker from Knoxville came to Central Dispatch last week and picked up 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 audit reports and some other things,” Herrell said. “So, it is still under investigation.”

He went on to add that the decision to terminate Murrell had nothing to do with this investigation.

“Although I do appoint the E911 board members, I am not a voting member of that board,” County Mayor Jim Lee told the Review. “I fully support the board’s decision. Especially with all that had gone on there in the past and in the present. All of my findings and information have been forwarded to the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. I look forward to working together with E911 and all of the hard-working and dedicated dispatchers.”