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  • Last modified 34 days ago (May 25, 2017)

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EMT tale may have overstated problem

Staff writer

A recent drumbeat of complaints about ambulance service at Hillsboro continued this week, but a compelling story told to county commissioners may have overstated the situation.

Former commissioner candidate Craig Dodd, who lives north of Hillsboro, provided a dramatic account of a heart attack he recently suffered.

Two ambulances went to his home, but because of state regulations requiring that both the driver and the attendant in the back of an ambulance be certified medical workers, the first ambulance could not transport him to a hospital.

Dodd’s symptoms began with a headache and feeling of weakness while he was outdoors.

“I sat down to rest, and something hit me in the chest like a sledgehammer,” he recalled.

He got into his house before he collapsed and his wife called for an ambulance.

Hillsboro’s ambulance had no one on duty, but a first responder who overhead the call brought the ambulance and treated him while waiting for an ambulance from Tampa to arrive.

“Bless his heart; he gave me oxygen,” Dodd said. “I’m told 35, 45 minutes later the ambulance arrived.”

Dodd said his calculation of the time he waited for the ambulance is from the time of the initial call to the arrival of the Tampa ambulance.

According to time-stamped recordings of radio transmissions, the Hillsboro ambulance arrived 13 minutes after the initial call — the exact amount of time online maps say a trip from the ambulance’s station to Dodd’s house should take.

Rather than arriving 35 to 45 minutes after that, the Tampa ambulance actually arrived 12 minutes later, according to recordings of radio transmissions.

Eleven minutes after the second ambulance’s arrival — a total of 36 minutes after the initial call — Dodd was at Hillsboro Community Hospital, where an air ambulance was eventually summoned to take him to a Wichita hospital.

Marion’s ambulance, which could have responded more quickly than Tampa’s, was not available because it had been sent, two minutes before Dodd’s call, on a different run to transport a patient with breathing difficulties from Marion County Lake to St. Luke Hospital in Marion.

“They told me another 30 minutes and it would have been pointless,” Dodd said, accusing the county of not having efficient ambulance service.

He praised the county for buying the former Auto House location in Marion for a new ambulance station.

“That’s a good job for the eastern part of the county,” Dodd said. “But what about the western part of the county?

“I believe the commissioners’ attitude is wrong. We can’t argue about who cuts the grass at the county lake.”

Dodd said that while he was lying on his kitchen floor, he didn’t care about other things the county needed. What he cared about was an ambulance arriving.

“I prayed to God, get an ambulance,” Dodd said.

Commission chair Randy Dallke told Dodd that emergency services director Ed Debesis has asked to expand service to eight full-time staff. The problem, Dallke said, is “budget, budget, budget.”

Dodd told Dallke that if the county has money to buy the Straub building in Marion as a new home for road and bridges crews, it has money to hire qualified people to staff its emergency medical service.

Dodd said commissioners unduly prioritized infrastructure issues.

“When a farmer is out there lying out in the field dying or a child is drowning at the lake, they don’t care about the infrastructure,” Dodd said. “They care about when they will get an ambulance.”

Dodd said he wanted commissioners to hear the perspective of someone who needed an ambulance for a life-threatening emergency.

He doesn’t think it’s necessary to have a fully staffed station in each town, but for enough staff to serve the needs of the community.

Commissioner Dianne Novak said she thought it would help to pay volunteers more for the hours they are on call.

Dallke said paying on-call emergency medical technicians more was not a dependable solution.

Dallke said part of the problem was that dispatchers don’t think to call ambulances from neighboring counties who might be closer to a patient who needs them.

“Everything we’re talking about today has already been discussed,” Dallke said.

Current state law requires two certified medical providers in case an ambulance has to stop and provide additional treatment during transportation, according to Joe House, executive director of the Kansas Board of Emergency Medical Service.

Without that regulation, a sheriff’s deputy, firefighter, or other volunteer could have assisted the lone off-duty Hillsboro EMT who responded, cutting 12 minutes off the time it took for him to reach Hillsboro Community Hospital, where he continued to receive treatment similar to what the EMT provided in the field while awaiting an air ambulance to Wichita.

Adding staffing in Hillsboro would have resulted in the exact same situation, cutting 12 minutes off the total time it took to reach the hospital.

If current EMT staffing in Marion had been shifted to Hillsboro, the situation actually would have been worse. Hillsboro ambulance would have responded to the first call, at Marion County Lake, and no ambulance other than Tampa’s would have been available for the off-duty Hillsboro EMT to use.

It is not unusual for off-duty EMTs to respond to calls they believe sound urgent.

This past week included four more of the nine days this month in which Hillsboro officially was listed as being without ambulance staffing.

Despite having no EMTs on duty, Hillsboro ambulance still responded Thursday, with a full crew, to a report of a 19-year-old having difficulty breathing in the 100 block of N. Madison St. and Friday, with just one EMT, to a report of an 18-year-old suffering a seizure at a local restaurant.

The second patient declined to be transported after Marion ambulance also arrived.

Friday, Marion ambulance responded to four other Hillsboro calls, two of them while still in Hillsboro handling an initial call in which a woman who had been knocked to the ground and scratched by a dog declined to be transported to a hospital. One of the calls was a transfer to a Wichita hospital.

No Hillsboro calls came in on either of the other days in which Hillsboro was officially listed as being without an ambulance on duty.

Details of all county ambulance calls are printed on the docket page of this newspaper.

Last modified May 25, 2017

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