Ambulances in overly critical condition
Marion County’s ambulance service is in critical condition — not because of poor policies, poor pay, or mediocre management. It’s infected by a much more serious virus that could bankrupt the county, leave us with nearly no medics, or both.
When loved ones need medical help, all of us naturally want every effort to be made. We want Greg House to diagnose us (preferably from afar), Marcus Welby to ride along with us (and make regular house calls), Roy Desoto to hook up our D5W, and the entire casts of “Chicago Med,” “ER,” “The Good Doctor,” “St. Elsewhere,” and any other show we can think of to suddenly be imbued with actual medical knowledge and made instantly available at the flick of a button on some remote control.
Anything less, in our minds, is a matter of life and death. And in life-and-death tragedies, someone always gets made out as the villain. These days — particularly in gossip circles, meeting rooms, and the dark underbelly of society known as social media — Marion County’s emergency medical service has become the villain.
Criticism started when ambulance officials, citing established and approved policies, wouldn’t allow multiple ambulances to leave the county, especially on trips of more than 60 miles in one direction.
Truth is there’s precious little need for that. Our nation’s medical system is set up with regional centers that are supposed to be able to handle anything sent their way. They are, in fact, required by law to accept any patient who shows up at their door, whether they have agreed to take them or not.
Two such hospitals exist in Wichita, just an hour’s drive away — Wesley Medical Center and Ascension Via Christi St. Francis Hospital. County ambulance rules allow patients to be transferred to either of them, provided at least one well-equipped ambulance can be kept in reserve to serve the potential emergencies of 11,864 other county residents, plus countless people passing through.
It never was our ambulance service’s fault if both hospitals contended they were too short-staffed to take a patient from Marion County. It was the fault of those hospitals. But hospitals are huge and powerful organizations, and medics are lone individuals, whom most of us never get to know — unless we are sick — in part because many of them live outside the county.
A dangerous mass exodus of medics resigning from our county’s ambulance service began not because of low pay, low standards, or a low levels of management. It was, to be frank, caused by overwrought citizens, hospital executives, and elected officials too willing to target medics instead of going after the those who really were denying Marion County residents access to services they are supposed to routinely provide.
Sure, the county could focus on just one or two sick people and ignore the potential needs of 11,864 or more others. Sure, we could do what government always wants to do and throw money at the problem. Or we could stand behind our hard-working, professional medics and insist that the situation is not their fault. In many ways, they’re victims of it as much as anyone else.
The state tried to intercede a few months ago by creating something called Mission Control to farm out distant ambulance runs when local services were not available. This system, too, seems to have failed. Its ambulances — not county ambulances — are the ones that failed to get patients to distant hospitals in time to potentially save their lives.
Blame Washington for the economic problems that have made Wesley, St. Francis, and Mission Control reluctant to take Marion County patients. But don’t blame our medics. Don’t dispirit professionals who know more about the situation than politicians do by letting politicians micro-manage them. And don’t throw cash onto the fire lest we want to create even worse economic problems here.
Maybe we just need to stop being so darned polite and no longer warn hospitals that our ambulances are coming. They are, after all, required to accept all who show up seeking treatment.
— ERIC MEYER