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Reports says CRS falls short of standards

June 05, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County's most active emergency service provider is below national standards in response time and number of calls missed, county Emergency Services Director Joe Kroboth reported Tuesday.

Kroboth was directed by the Washington County Board of Commissioners to evaluate the services provided by Community Rescue Service, which missed 61 calls in February, March and April.

Kroboth said that despite being below national standards, CRS provides above average services when compared with other emergency service providers in the county.

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The commissioners ordered the evaluation of CRS in January after the organization asked for a $50,000 grant from the county to help with financial difficulties.

Kroboth's report prompted concern from the county commissioners. Commissioner Bert Iseminger said the county may want to consider a fire and ambulance tax to increase funding to CRS.

Iseminger said the county should act soon to prevent serious problems down the road.

"We've got some real problems that if we don't address ... this county is going to be in some serious shape," Iseminger said. "We've got some response times that are not acceptable, and we've been lucky."

CRS, which has a budget of about $2 million, responds to about 7,000 calls a year, Kroboth said.

He said in the report that of 61 calls to which CRS could not respond, 16 were in February, 24 were in March and 21 were in April. CRS received 1,481 calls during that three-month period.

Other emergency service providers responded to the missed calls, he said after the meeting.

Kroboth said CRS couldn't respond because emergency crews were tied up on other calls and didn't have enough staff to be dispatched.

Based on the number of calls CRS receives, Kroboth reported that the main station is understaffed by three to four people throughout the 24-hour workday.

He also wrote that crews assigned to the medic units are also responsible for staffing the rescue squad, further complicating personnel shortages.

CRS was late to calls 17 times over the same three-month period and on 18 occasions sent undercertified staff to calls that required the services of crews with advanced certifications, he reported.

Being late to a call means that response time - the time it takes to reach the person in need of medical assistance - was more than five minutes and less than 10 minutes after the time of dispatch.

Furthermore, Kroboth reported that emergency response personnel have morale problems and are concerned about job security. He said a number of workers reported that they work their regular 24-hour shifts and are then sent to other stations to work an additional eight to 16 hours.

CRS representatives who listened to the report acknowledged the organization's problems.

Executive Director J. Michael Nye said CRS has tried to increase the number of volunteers to make up for staffing shortages, but has had a hard time finding and keeping them.

"The reality of life is that the volunteer system ... is very difficult to maintain," Nye said. "It's a huge challenge to get volunteers."

Kroboth said volunteers are hard to find because they must adapt to 24-hour workdays, a tough task when they have other full-time jobs.

He said volunteers may feel intimidated by the expertise level of full-time staff.

Both Kroboth and Nye said the recent announcement by Washington County Hospital that it would close its trauma center would mean some calls will take more time, which may add to overtime and new staffing expenses.

"It's a potential nightmare financially," Nye said.

Kroboth said ambulances will have to make longer trips to transport patients to trauma centers outside the county, possibly tying up crews an additional three to five hours.

The commissioners voted 5-0 to sent the evaluation to the county's Emergency Management Committee for further review.

Commission Vice President Paul L. Swartz said Tuesday evening that the committee probably will make recommendations on the issue and send them to the commissioners.

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