Ambulance breakdowns concern commission

Friday, May 21, 2010

When there's an emergency, there's an expectation that a working ambulance will be dispatched, but it's not always so, according to discussion during an ambulance committee meeting this week when the topic was budget cuts.

"I've had ambulances break down with patients in them," Lawrence County Emergency Medical Services Director Scott Storey said while explaining one of his solutions to that problem is to lease ambulances toward their purchase over several years.

That eliminated maintenance costs and permitted acquisition of three new ambulances at one time, Storey told the Marshall County EMS Committee on Tuesday night.

Marshall County EMS Director James Whorley had Storey attend the committee meeting to provide details.

"We had one that got as far as the Mini-Mart" near the CSX Railroad crossing on South Ellington Parkway, Whorley said of an ambulance dispatched from the bays at EMS Headquarters on the Parkway at Spring Place Road.

County ambulances have odometer readings ranging from more than 130,000 to one approaching 200,000 miles.

Whorley is proposing to phase out diesel-powered ambulances on truck frames. Gas is cheaper. And truck frames are higher so those ambulances have been fitted with an air-ride system to lower the back of the vehicle to accommodate the height of a standard sized stretcher.

Such plans, however, come when county revenues are down and the County Commission's Budget Committee is looking at all options on how to reduce spending. One of them is having departments lower spending by about seven percent compared to the budget adopted last summer. At that time the ambulance service budget was around $2.1 million.

"Maybe we need to boost the revenue stream," Commission Chairman Billy Spivey said.

That led to a discussion on the cost of ambulance service to patients and the amount of debt owed to the service by patients.

"The bottom line is that we're going to have a new commission here" as a result of the election in August, Commissioner Tony White said. "We need to get a budget set by July."

No decision was made at the EMS Committee meeting on the department's proposed budget. The panel agreed to reconvene at 5 p.m. Wednesday to continue its budget review.

Still, Storey's comments were heard: "You don't want a family member in an ambulance like that" one that broke down, even though there were no adverse consequences for the patient.