York County ambulance proposal moves forward

jzou@heraldonline.comSeptember 25, 2013 

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— After seven months of discussion, members of the York County Council are moving forward to revamp the county’s ambulance policy in an effort to better coordinate emergency response and put an end to racing ambulances.

“We’re going to a higher standard,” Councilman Joe Cox said of the proposed contract, which will consist of tiered response times based on the severity of the emergency.

Cox said the new standards will exceed current state requirements for emergency response. He plans to put a completed contract to a council vote within a month.

A three-member committee, which is chaired by Cox, has worked closely with Piedmont Medical Center and two local rescue squads to hammer out a contract that will meet the county’s goal of improving response times in rural areas while ending “dual dispatch.”

Currently, the county’s 911 system can send out two ambulances per call, which has led to competition between PMC, the county’s primary ambulatory provider, and volunteer rescue squads.

While the practice was meant to improve overall service, councilmen said it has resulted in racing ambulances that endanger lives. Response times have also remained lackluster.

“The response times in my district are appalling,” said Cox, referring to an average of more than 16 minutes for medical emergencies in western York County towns such as Hickory Grove. Comparatively, response times in eastern York County, including Tega Cay, clock in at under 10 minutes.

“This is a countywide contract, not just, ‘We’re gonna make money in Tega Cay or we’re gonna make money in Fort Mill,’” Cox said.

PMC operates on a for-profit basis while the Fort Mill Rescue Squad and the Lake Wylie/River Hills Rescue Squad are non-profit.

The contract also calls for the creation of a committee made of representatives from the ambulance providers and the county in an effort to help all parties reach a consensus on how to better coordinate in the future.

But during a meeting on Wednesday night in York, members of both rescue squads expressed concern with the contract when it came to liability, termination and oversight.

“We’re held accountable for things beyond our control,” said Leo Yakutis of the Lake Wylie/River Hills Rescue Squad. The squads can face suspension and contract termination if they are unable to meet specified times, but Yakutis said it was unclear if PMC would face similar repercussions.

The attorney for Fort Mill Rescue Squad said the current contract doesn’t address staging, or the placement of ambulances, which has been at the heart of difficulties with coordination among the various entities.

“The county should develop a system to make sure available resources are adequately used for the benefit of all York County citizens,” said attorney Brian Murphy. “It (the proposal) doesn’t really change anything.”

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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