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Ambulance use worries some at CRS

December 21, 2000

Ambulance use worries some at CRS



By DAN KULIN / Staff Writer


Some Washington County ambulance company leaders are at odds over whether providing "nonemergency transports" puts the public at risk.

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Since September, ambulance companies in Halfway and Clear Spring have been providing nonemergency transports - carrying patients from Washington County to Baltimore-area hospitals.

Officials from the Halfway and Clear Spring companies say the transports are a good way to raise money - typically, $250 to $1,000 per transport.

But J. Michael Nye, interim director of Community Rescue Service, which serves Hagerstown and the surrounding area, says those trips tie up ambulances, creating a potentially dangerous situation.

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"Naturally it increases response times. ... It is putting the general public at risk," Nye said.

Nye said the danger is that while an ambulance company is transporting a nonemergency patient it can get an emergency call and be one ambulance short, forcing the call to go to the next closest ambulance company.

"What might be a three- to five-minute response could be a 30-minute response," Nye said.

Nye and other CRS officials could not point to any specific incidents when they were forced to cover an emergency for a company that was busy doing a transport.

There was such a situation involving the Halfway Volunteer Fire Co. on Tuesday.

While one of the company's two ambulances was taking a patient to a Washington, D.C., hospital, two more emergency calls came in. It was the first time the fire company was faced with too many emergencies and too few ambulances because one of its ambulances was on a nonemergency transport, said Jeff Ringer, company administrator.

Nye says the story illustrates why local ambulance companies should not provide nonemergency transports.

But Ringer says it wasn't a big deal, as the nearby Williamsport ambulance company responded to the scene in minutes.

"The same thing happens if one of our ambulances is being repaired," Ringer said.

Besides, he said, the ambulance company needs the money the nonemergency transports bring in.

"We are always looking for new and creative ways to (financially) support (the company)," Ringer said. "Eventually we'll have an emergency services tax. We're trying to put off that day."

Ringer would not say how much money the company has brought in by providing the transports.

John Greenlee, chief of operations with the Clear Spring Ambulance Club, said, "If it affected service in our community I wouldn't do it."

He said whenever the company does a transport, they make sure at least one ambulance is available for emergency calls. Greenlee said the club has two ambulances and is going to buy one or two more in the next six months.

Greenlee said they have not had to call another company to cover their area when one of their ambulances was doing a transport.

"At no point in time is the Clear Spring community compromised," he said.

Greenlee said they typically do about one transport a day.

In Halfway, Ringer said ambulances only do a transport if another ambulance is available.

Ringer said they do about 15 transports a month, and the transports have not caused problems.

"In Halfway this is not hurting the service," he said.

Also, Ringer questioned calling them nonemergency transports.

"They have to go by ambulance," he said.

Williamsport Volunteer Ambulance Service Chief Bo Miller said his company has considered doing nonemergency transports but decided against it because they feared it could affect service.

Miller said it's OK for other companies to offer nonemergency transports, "if they can handle it." But he said there's reason to be concerned.

"I haven't seen any (negative) effects. ... It means nobody's been caught yet doing nonemergency transports. But there's going to be a time we get caught," Miller said.

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