EMS staffing emergency results in response time delays

Published: Aug. 12, 2019 at 6:31 PM EDT
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Officials say the ambulance industry is in an emergency of its own.

Many in Floyd County are worried about their safety as the response time from

Emergency Medical Services is increasing.

"It's a life and death situation," said Daniel Gullett.

Gullett is the Chief of Wheelwright Fire Department.

"On this end of the county, it's usually an hour at the least," Gullett pointed out. "This is nothing new. It's been a trend or some-time."

He told WYMT the ambulance service industry is facing the same problem as local volunteer fire departments.

"That's the biggest problem, finding ways to recruit people," Gullett said.

Bert Absher is the Director of Operations for Lifeguard Emergency Medical Services. He agrees with Gullett.

"There's a lot of concern. There's a lot of uneasiness. We're going to improve on that daily by fixing the crisis that affects our response times," Absher explained.

Repairing this issue will not be a quick process.

This is a problem not only in Eastern Kentucky, but across the nation as well.

Lifeguard is offering a $5,000 paramedic hire-on bonus, tuition assistance, and loan reimbursement.

Absher said he is also working on implementing a new program.

"Every county that we operate in, we have what we call a quick response vehicle. My managers are going to start responding with EMS equipment as a first responder," said Absher. "This will cut down the time from the moment a call comes through dispatch to the time the patient actually begins to receive treatment while they're waiting for the ambulance to get there."

Plus, data gathering for busy days and working with local fire departments will also help.

"Where we engage our local fire departments to help us staff ambulances. Many of our fire departments have EMTs and paramedics who are not active in the 911 market," Absher explained. "They're already serving their community. Let us help them serve their community better."

One aspect many may not realize, is the reimbursements ambulance services receive.

"Oftentimes, your 911 provider, and it doesn't matter if it's our company or if it's the company in the next county over, we operate at a loss. It's because of some of our Medicaid reimbursements," said Absher.

After the cost of medical supplies, trucks, and other important items, outweigh the profit of a call.

Gullett called on people who live in Eastern Kentucky to take a stand against the current legislature surrounding ambulance services.

"Really lobby the government to get better reimbursements for ambulance services," said Gullett.

Absher said there is no reason for anyone to worry. "Our main priority is our patients," Absher pointed out. "We're going to do whatever it takes to entice people to come to this career field so we can better serve our communities."

Friday, Absher hired 29 full-time employees to work for Lifeguard.

Those students will be paid as full-time employees for 12 weeks. This is the first time Lifeguard has used this tactic.

"If there are EMTs and paramedics out there looking for a job today, I have a home for you," Absher pointed out.

He told WYMT he and his co-workers are working around the clock to implement these programs for response time improvements.

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