EMS crews sometimes asked to lift 500-700 pounds

Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Emergency Medical Services Director James Whorley is authorized by the county's EMS Committee led by Commissioner Reynelle Peacock Smith to buy a motorized stretcher before summer. The EMS needs a new ambulance, too.

Marshall County's Emergency Medical Services Committee is encouraging the EMS director to buy a stretcher that will lift heavy patients, some weighing 500-700 pounds.

"This power cot may save a back injury," EMS Director James Whorley told the committee last week during its quarterly meeting at EMS headquarters, "and then it would be worth the cost."

A power cot costs about $13,000, officials said, acknowledging medical treatment for a paramedic's back injury could cost more than that, and influence insurance rates. Another stretcher used by ambulance crews costs approximately $4,200, but it doesn't have a motor to lift patients.

"Obesity is a bad problem in the United States and in Marshall County," Whorley said.

Four men went on an ambulance call in recent weeks and transported a patient whose weight was almost more than they could lift, the director said. The four-man crew advised him they'd have done better with another two people to help lift the patient.

"If he has the money in his budget, I say, go ahead and buy that power cot," Commissioner Mickey King said, encouraging a vote for the purchase.

Commissioner Mike Waggoner seconded the motion that was adopted unanimously.

EMS Lt. Bobby Isley attended the Jan. 26 meeting and, on Saturday, he reconfirmed what Whorley reported with regard to the service's need for a motorized stretcher to lift some patients up from at or near the floor to the level of the ambulance floor.

"Some people are over 500 pounds," Isley said. "We had a guy several years ago and he was over 700 pounds.

"We could have used two more people" to help the four crewmen on the call described by Whorley, "but sometimes you just don't have them (more people available on an ambulance crew, or work shift) to help."

During the committee meeting, Whorley also reported other equipment needs.

"We are definitely in need of a new ambulance," the director said. "We've had units (ambulances) break down on the interstate taking patients" to a hospital in Nashville.

That's a risky situation because the ambulance crew is responsible for the well-being of the patient being transported.

"One time, when the crew was out for lunch, the ambulance had to be towed" to a repair shop, Whorley said.

"And if an ambulance won't start on a call, it's embarrassing" to the crew that has to face a patient, he said.

A new ambulance was requested last summer when the county budget was being drafted, and it was the second year in a row that such a need was explained.

"When an ambulance has 200,000 miles on it, the state requires a mechanical inspection," Whorley said.

State certified inspections cost $80 and if the ambulance fails, the repair is required, or another inspection must be conducted and that costs another $80.

Whorley wants to sell an ambulance with more than 180,000 miles on its odometer, he said. Others have 168,000, 166,000 and 143,000 miles logged. Two have traveled about 56,000 and 58,000 miles.

The department's annual budget is now about $2.2 million.

"We cut his [budget] right down to the bone last year," King said.

A new truck chassis suitable for transfer of an ambulance body costs about $90,000 and EMS officials hope to sell the old chassis for about $9,000, according to discussion that Wednesday night last week.