May 30, 2012

Location key in ambulance site discussion

by Dave Kitchell
Local Columnist

— “When seconds count,” one bumper sticker around Logansport said a few years ago, “count on professional firefighters.”

That was a subtle way of saying that full-time firefighters employed by the city of Logansport are trained people with one mission — to serve the public and protect lives.

The same phrase could apply to professional ambulance personnel. When an ambulance is dispatched to any area of the county, the clock starts running on what medical personnel call “The Golden Hour” when they are most likely to save a patient from death.

It could be a heart patient who needs a portable defibrillator treatment in a hurry, an unconscious child just pulled from a pool or the river or a COPD patient gasping for breath.

Those seconds can be as much a difference between life and death as the best hospital, the best surgeon or the best insurance.

That’s why county officials who have negotiated the privatization of ambulance service should consider the relocation of the ambulances with some caution. There’s nothing wrong with farming out ambulance services to a private firm. Many other Indiana counties have already done it. Ironically, it’s a sign that ambulance services have come full circle from a time 50 years ago when local ambulance services were provided by the private sector: local funeral homes.

But potentially moving the central location of ambulances in the county from Logansport Memorial Hospital could only add seconds to most ambulance calls. That move could happen because the hospital is converting an ambulance garage into space that will house two auxiliary generators the hospital will need to maintain its accreditation. The move is expected to save the hospital $180,000, but how much will it cost the city and county in lives if ambulances are moved further away from state highways, other main arteries and the center of the community’s population? That’s a question nobody can answer.

What we all can answer is this question: Where should emergency response agencies be located? If you answered with any response other than “the best possible location,” you’ve never really thought about how important every second in that golden hour is, and you probably haven’t had a friend, relative or loved one who needed emergency treatment that required an ambulance.

It makes sense to find a place for ambulances that has the best access to state highways and the most direct routes to areas of the county. Those could include Logansport Road, High Street, Broad Ripple Road and Cass Station Road. One simple answer would be the Central Fire Station at Sixth and High. It’s a facility that has space for ambulances, separate locker and shower areas for men and women, a training area and a living space. It’s located on a state highway in Ind. 25 and on a main artery in High street. It’s three blocks from another state highway and equally as close or closer to the two main streets in Logansport.

But even if that location isn’t the choice for the firm operating the ambulance service, one that takes into account the need for fastest response should be considered.

Cass County has had a history of making decisions for its emergency response services that erred if anything on the side of response times. In the 1980s, former Cass County Commissioners President Gil Thomas, a Republican, was once the only person at a planning meeting to support rural house numbering so that police, fire and ambulance personnel would be able to locate some of the hard-to-find places in the county. Eventually, the county followed the lead of other counties and adopted the concept. Then, county officials grappled with the notion of an Enhanced 9-1-1 system that provided more information to emergency personnel. In some cases, the best routes to some locations were also included along with key medical information. E-9-1-1 required a surcharge, but it was adopted. Then came a brutal battle first within the city and then between city and county officials over a central dispatching system for emergency calls. There were issues to work out, not the least of which were who would be in charge of the dispatchers and how much they would be paid. But at the end of the debate, an agreement was reached.

Although it might makes sense to put ambulances in two different locations in the county, it probably won’t happen because the population may not warrant it, and a private firm may not deem it feasible financially. But if the objective of an ambulance service is first and foremost to respond as quickly as possible during any weather conditions that could inhibit response time, Cass County commissioners, Logansport Memorial Hospital Board trustees and the ambulance firm’s own management should be on the same page in insisting that the next location for the county’s ambulances be as central as possible.

When second thoughts count, count on taxpayers to demand some accountability in making wise decisions that not only save money, but save lives.

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