York County EMS contract gets initial OK; rescue squads not on board

jzou@heraldonline.comOctober 8, 2013 

Robert White, EMS Community Relations Coordinator, shows an ambulance at Piedmont Medical Center EMS headquarters in Rock Hill.

ANDY BURRISS — aburriss@heraldonline.com Buy Photo

The York County Council moved forward with plans to finalize a contract with the county’s volunteer ambulance services on Monday night, even as the agencies covered under the proposed agreement expressed dissatisfaction with it.

The contract would put an end to “racing ambulances” – the practice of a “dual dispatch” in northern areas of the county that often results in ambulances from both Piedmont Medical Center and a rescue squad being sent to the same medical emergency.

Council members have worked with PMC, River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS and Fort Mill Rescue Squad for several months to try to reach a consensus on a countywide EMS policy.

While the county has long had a contract with PMC regarding its EMS system, no formal agreement has existed between the county and its volunteer agencies.

Monday’s County Council meeting was the first of three public hearings before a final vote on the proposal.

“We hope to continue working with the county,” said Leo Yakutis, vice president of River Hills EMS. “But at this time, we do not the accept the proposed ordinance.”

Brian Murphy, attorney for the Fort Mill Rescue Squad, summed up his issues with the proposal for the council.

“It’s too cumbersome, it doesn’t work, and it’s not good for the citizens of York County,” he said.

Yakutis and Murphy don’t like the contract’s lack of coordination among EMS agencies when it comes to positioning ambulances countywide. They also took issue with how difficult it can be for rescue squads to get approval to deploy more ambulances.

Under the proposed contract, rescue squads would have to fail standards for response times before they’re allowed to add ambulances to their fleets. PMC, by contrast, is allowed to add or subtract ambulances at will.

In addition to quelling competition between the ambulance services, the proposed contract also would introduce a tiered response system that would give greater priority to life-threatening medical emergencies.

Councilman Joe Cox said that change could shorten response times in the western, largely rural end of the county, where medical response times have exceeded 16 or 17 minutes.

That was a critical issue for Jessica Elliott and her sister, Whitney Truesdale, who spoke at Monday’s meeting to urge the council to take the situation seriously.

On Aug. 19, Elliott, who was seven months pregnant, waited 23 minutes for a PMC ambulance to arrive at her McConnells home as she hemorrhaged on her bathroom floor.

“It takes me about 18, 20 minutes to get to Piedmont from McConnells,” Elliott said.

After the first ambulance got stuck in mud at Elliott’s home, it took another 46 minutes for another ambulance to arrive and finally get her to the hospital.

“Would you feel safe living in or even traveling in areas that have EMS response times of 17 minutes or more?” she said. “My daughter Tinsley is not here. She’s in heaven, and I believe I was saved to tell her story.”

Elliott, a teacher in York, lost her baby shortly after arriving at Carolinas Medical Center in Pineville.

Councilman Bruce Henderson said PMC has “what seemed to be a monopoly” and that he was weary of what appeared to be “so much control by one entity alone.”

The proposed contract calls for EMS agencies to meet new response times of 10, 15, or 20-minute windows based on the seriousness of the call and regardless of location.

Currently, response times are differentiated by whether the patient is located in an urban or rural area. Henderson expressed concern that the current contract gives too much leeway for continued slow response in rural areas.

CVB gets all of its money

The County Council also voted 4-3 to fully fund the county’s tourism bureau, amid questions about the future of the organization.

In a meeting last week, Cox proposed cutting the Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s budget by 25 percent, or about $97,000. He also said he wants to see the bureau restructured and its staff reduced.

Councilmen Britt Blackwell, Bump Roddey, Chad Williams and Michael Johnson voted to fully fund the bureau through June.

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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