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Hennepin Healthcare releases reviews on ketamine use to sedate police subjects

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Reviews of the use of the sedative ketamine by Hennepin Healthcare employees on agitated people being detained by Minneapolis police concluded that those medicated were not endangered by the practice. Hennepin Healthcare released the reviews Thursday.

Hennepin Healthcare, also known as HCMC, came under scrutiny last year after the Star Tribune obtained a draft of a report by the Office of Police Conduct Review last year. The reports raised concerns that some who were given ketamine were restrained at the time and that the emergency medical personnel were being influenced by police. 

There also were concerns that the hospital's study of ketamine allowed patients to be given the drug without their prior consent. 

Reports released Thursday included one authored by two Dallas-based experts in ketamine and emergency medicine, Brian Williams and Ray Fowler, and another by an internal "working group," made up of Hennepin Healthcare doctors, administrators and legal staff. That report says EMS workers from Hennepin Healthcare could be more professional in some situations and, noted one instance when Minneapolis police "appeared to threaten a patient with a potential medical intervention," the use of ketamine.

The group recommended more training for paramedics as they work with police. 

The report says there were no cardiac arrests due to ketamine, nor cases of intubation of sedated individuals before they were hospitalized, in the several cases they studied based on body-worn camera footage and police reports.   

A memorandum from Patti Jurkovich, assistant Hennepin County attorney, also released Thursday, says that after representatives of the U.S. Health and Human Services department viewed eight instances recorded on police body cameras, "the group agreed that the administration of ketamine was medically appropriate and justified in each of the incidents under review." The instances were part of the draft report from the Office of Police Conduct Review.

Hennepin Healthcare noted the report by the internal working group recommended improvements in some areas, but doesn't call for major overhauls.

"All three reports pointed this out, where we could've done better is engaged our community more in the research process and also just in the delivery as ketamine as a treatment," said Hennepin Healthcare CEO Jon Pryor in an interview, noting the pushback on the lack of prior consent for those who received ketamine. 

"We followed rules and regulations, but we should've gone way above that, we should have not just informed the community about the research but engaged the community about the research."

Hennepin Healthcare said all EMS workers receive training to work with people in mental health crises, as well to recognize their own racial and other biases. 

A spokesperson with the Minneapolis Police Department declined to comment, since officials had not yet read the reviews.

Pryor said the health system is changing because of what he termed a difficult experience.

"I don't think that anyone can argue with the fact that having a community or research advisory board doing continuous quality improvement whenever someone is given ketamine, additional training for both researchers and paramedics — nobody can argue that those things are wrong," Pryor said.