Washingtonians of the Year 2007: The Rosenbaums

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By: Leslie Milk, Ellen Ryan

“All the things that could possibly go wrong did,” Marcus Rosenbaum says.

He means two years ago, the night his brother, New York Times reporter and editor David Rosenbaum, went for a walk near his home in Northwest DC and got mugged with a pipe. Paramedics, assuming he was drunk, didn’t probe for injuries—and police didn’t investigate. The ambulance headed across town to Howard University Hospital because a paramedic had personal business nearby. Four hours went by there before David was evaluated for brain injury. Two days later, he died.

In November 2006, Rosenbaum’s children notified DC and Howard of a $20-million lawsuit. But the family had been discussing an alternative: They would release the District from the suit if the city made major changes in its Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services within a year.

Incoming mayor Adrian Fenty “ran on accountability,” David’s daughter, Dottie Rosenbaum, explains. Fenty talked with the family even before his election. “We told him, ‘We’re hoping we can strengthen your hand toward the common good.’ ”

The settlement signed by both sides last March mandated a task force, which came up with six groups of recommendations. Already the District has a new fire chief, a full-time medical director, electronic tracking of patient interactions, and greater oversight of emergency services. Dottie’s husband, Toby Halliday—who condensed his workweek for the past year to see to details—says the city is well on its way to full compliance. If the family is not satisfied, however, the agreement becomes void and the lawsuit goes into effect.

When the settlement was announced, Marcus Rosenbaum told a reporter, “I live here, and I want everyone in the city to feel safe.” Last month he added, “We just want to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to someone else.”