October 16, 2013

KITCHELL: 'Golden hour' at hand for local officials


---- — When someone dials 911 and asks for an ambulance to come, the expectation is that a local ambulance service assigned to do nothing but respond to those calls will respond immediately and that everything that can be done to save a life will be done.

While that may be the expectation in Logansport and Cass County as much as it is anywhere else in this country, there is genuine concern about the job that Rural Metro, the company hired by county officials to provide ambulance service, is doing. Those concerns boiled over at a Logansport City Council meeting last week when the council approved a $100,000 appropriation in the 2014 city budget. That funding will be committed to purchase an ambulance for the Logansport Fire Department for the first time. That’s somewhat unusual since the city isn’t responsible for providing its own ambulance service.

Councilman Chuck LaDow called for the council to eliminate the item in the budget, but after a discussion involving both Logansport’s fire chief, Mark Strong, and firefighter B.J. Cox, the other six members were convinced to proceed with the appropriation. Strong said he was reluctant to move the fire department into the ambulance business, but the choice is clear based on problems with Rural Metro’s service.

While patients may ultimately win because of the council’s move, the ultimate loser is the taxpayer who is being billed twice for the same service. Why should Logansport taxpayers have to pay for both a fire department ambulance and another one contracted by the county? The obvious answer is that they shouldn’t, but unless something happens to change minds, they will be soon.

In Walton, there is a peculiar twist to this situation. Walton’s Bernie Mangan relates the story of a neighbor who called for an ambulance and had both Rural Metro and the Galveston Ambulance Service respond to the call. Ironically, the man also ended up being billed by both Rural Metro and Galveston for ambulance calls. Mangan says the billing was eventually straightened out, but the coverage of the same area by two different ambulance services represents a duplication of services that is unnecessarily redundant, if not a waste of public money.

With Rural Metro’s recent bankruptcy filing, it may not be the best time to expect major changes for the better in staffing, equipment on ambulances or response times. But what is clear is that this not the best time to resolve a contentious issue between city and county officials. The city already has a pending lawsuit against the county involving the unincorporated Clymers area. Wounds from the new city/county dispatching center may be healed, but there may be personal scars remaining from that chapter of city/county relations. And then there’s another contentious issue — a decision by the county to fund a new rural fire department that has reduced the available tax base for Logansport fire protection and subsequently the department’s size.

But this is an important issue that really shouldn’t wait until a new city budget is in place, or until Rural Metro’s contract with the county expires. It should be dealt with as soon as possible. How? Here’s a possible solution:

Refer the matter to the Cass County Emergency Management Agency Board. The board could independently answer questions public officials and the public in general needs to know. Among those questions is “What are the response times for ambualnce runs in both the city and rural portions of the county?” Rural Metro’s figures were presented at the council meeting, but were they accurate?

Still other questions are “Will Rural Metro upgrade ambulances and staff to alleviate the concerns in both areas?” and “Can Rural Metro’s staff and city firefighters work together?” Based on discussion at the council meeting, this is a huge concern, particularly if Logansport police has already been called to mediate a dispute between emergency response personnel working an active response scene. Another question is this: “Are two ambulances for Rural Metro enough?” Still another question is “With paramedics possibly being added to Logansport’s fire department, will more staffing be needed for LFD?”

CCEMA is one entity parthat involves both city and county emergency response personnel. Its board has the responsibility of preparing for the worst events that can strike the community at any time. It ought to be able to come up with a viable ambulance plan that serves Logansport and rural Cass County residents better than the current scenario.

The time spent in emergency response is known as “The Golden Hour” for all the doctors, nurses and medical staff people who do everything from CPR to flying patients in a helicopter to transplanting a heart. Local officials are in their own golden hour on the ambulance issue. This is one time the taxpayers don’t want to hear “Take two aspirin and call me tomorrow.”

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at