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Rescue foundations introspect after mysterious death of woman

The Ruamkatanyu Foundation has imposed stricter screening of part-time volunteers after the mysterious death of a woman on a medical rescue that it supervised recently.

It wants people with qualifications similar to its permanent staff, along with other improvements to prevent such a scandal occurring again.

The foundation's deputy public relations chief, Anyawut Phothi-amphai, said it was vital to regain the foundation's long-standing good image, as well as that of more than 100,000 staff with various other charities, through better performance and stricter protocols.

On January 13, a 28-year-old officer worker fell unconscious while having dinner on Ramkhamhaeng Road. Chan (not her real name) was picked up by a Ruamkatanyu dispatch, but driver Thawatchai sae-Sim did not take her to a nearby hospital as instructed. She was found several hours later, drowned, by a canal off Bang Na-Trat Road near the 18km marker.

Anyawut cited a police inquiry report, which said Thawatchai drove to the hospital, but headed off after finding Chan attractive. The part-time volunteer later confessed to caressing the victim when she remained unconscious, but denied raping her. He claimed that Chan regained consciousness, then fought back and managed to get out of the vehicle.

Thawatchai, 32, a regular drug user, was found to be 'high' on two amphetamine tablets after a urine test. He has been charged with drug use, attempted rape, theft and unauthorised use of a radio. He may also be charged with rape, if post-mortem reports reveal that the victim was violated sexually.

The autopsy results are also expected to determine how Chan died, if it was an accidental drowning, as she suffered a chronic disease that led her to frequently pass out, and that may have affected her ability to swim after she went near the canal, or her death was a suicide. Reports from two people who picked her up from a bush said she had become extremely distressed.

Anyawut said Ruamkatanyu personnel on duty, whether part-time volunteers or permanent staff, had to always wear a uniform with the foundation badge, and travel in service vehicles, or vehicles with the group's logos. They operate in teams of two or multiple members, and can be identified via dispatch logs through the foundation's coordination centre.

But Thawatchai was alone and travelled in a non-service vehicle. He was dispatched by the foundation to pick up Chan, due to a shortage of staff, as many are stationed at political rally sites.

"It was supposed to be a routine pickup to the hospital, but it is beyond expectation that he would have brought disgrace upon the foundation and charity workers in general," Anyawut said.

Under Ruamkatanyu Foundation regulations, part-time volunteers - who number around 5,000 - are not authorised to fully handle medevac cases, or rescues and other emergency services like permanent qualified staff. Volunteers operate as assistants and are only allowed support roles, such as directing traffic during emergencies, he said.

Poh Teck Tung Foundation, an equally well-known charity, said the incident had damaged public trust in charity foundations and their services. A spokesman said relatives of patients should travel in the emergency vehicle in such a case to make sure patients are admitted to the hospital.

Poh Teck Tung has 3,859 permanent staff, plus around 4,000 part-time volunteers, who must all have no criminal record, or history of drug use, head of staff Theerawuth Khamphimabutr said. Permanent staff must regularly undergo advanced training and have a minimum of five years' experience.

Any staff, whether permanent or volunteers, would be prosecuted or put on a police watchlist if they were found to have committed or been indirectly involved in crimes. They also face random and surprise drug tests, conducted regularly to prevent drug use after they pass initial drug screening, Theerawuth said.


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