County to consider intervention plan

February 02, 2007|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A draft plan to address what one ambulance company chief called "holes in coverage" would give the county greater oversight over companies that fail to meet standards in areas like response times and staffing levels.

County help for companies could carry a price tag of almost $6 million before revenues from patient billing are figured, according to projections included in the two-phase plan.

G. Glenn Fuscsick, president of the Washington County Fire & Rescue Association, said during an interview Tuesday that the plan, which he called "pro volunteer," addresses companies' financial and staffing shortfalls.

"I can say that we're concerned about times of response," Fuscsick said.

"The Emergency Medical Services: Plan for the Future" calls for first-phase help for all companies, including reimbursements for fuel and maintenance costs, and the establishment of four strategically placed battalions staffed by 12 county-paid paramedics with the highest level of training. Under the second phase, which would go into effect at companies that have not met standards, the county would take over billing and hire extra staff.


Some companies might not welcome the county's intervention, said paramedic Todd Smith, who on Thursday endorsed the idea of having county funding buttress companies' staffing.

"You have to ask yourself at some point, 'Where does the liability fall?' Who's going to take responsibility when that person in that accident or that house fire dies, and we don't show up?" asked Smith, who works part time for companies in Sharpsburg and Clear Spring.

Fuscsick said the plan will be the focus of a meeting of ambulance company personnel at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater. He said he expects it to be presented to the Washington County Commissioners in the coming weeks.

A member of the Baltimore County Fire Department, Smith said the volunteer system can become bogged down, especially when calls come in bunches or require responses from paramedics with the most advanced levels of training.

Appendices included with the plan show that companies occasionally fail to respond to calls promptly, or even at all.

Kevin Lewis, Washington County deputy director of fire and emergency services, said the numbers do not tell the full story, since in some cases, a company is called as a second choice when the first ambulance reports it is tied up elsewhere.

While one ambulance might "scratch" on a call, as the appendices show, another might show up instead without affecting response times, Lewis said.

"I think we're doing a very adequate job, but again, I would be remiss in my job not to look into the future," said Lewis, who pointed to projected annual increases in calls at companies across the county.

The battalion plan would provide "a stop-gap measure" for "holes in coverage," said Morgan Boyd, chief of the Boonsboro ambulance company.

Boyd said two paid ambulance personnel always are on staff at Boonsboro, but he said he worries about handling several calls at once.

"That's one of my biggest concerns: If we wouldn't have enough people to cover a second call, and one would come in," Boyd said.

Fuscsick acknowledged that help does not always arrive in time.

In one instance, a person in cardiac arrest waited 17 minutes for an ambulance, Fuscsick said. He answered with three words what happened to the patient.

"Didn't make it," he said.

Fuscsick said the incident was not the only time a person in need of an ambulance waited too long for help to arrive.

"They're not suing to the best of my knowledge. They're aware that they live in the boondocks, and they're aware that the nearest ambulance is far away," Fuscsick said.

Smith said that he supports the new plan, though he said he believes some companies will resist ceding control to the county.

"You're not the one that wants to be on that other end, lying there waiting for an ambulance that may or may not show up," Smith said.

If you go...

What: Meeting for Emergency Medical Services personnel to discuss the draft master plan that highlights possible changes

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

Where: Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater

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