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Ambulance worker shortage challenges EMS

Staff writer

Emergency services dealt with a challenging week of calls, including the familiar effort of dispatchers to find emergency responders amid a shortage of on-call ambulance workers.

Friday afternoon, a 67-year-old woman fell in Florence, but no one with the Florence Fire Department answered the page from dispatch operators.

Peabody ambulance was paged, but only one of the required two EMTs was available. The Peabody EMT traveled to the scene as a first responder.

So dispatch operators attempted to contact Marion’s backup ambulance, but they did not receive any response.

After striking out in Florence, Peabody and Marion, dispatch operators contacted the Hillsboro ambulance, which sent two EMTs in an ambulance to join the Peabody emergency responder at the scene. Twenty-nine minutes after receiving the initial call of a fallen woman in Florence, the Hillsboro ambulance arrived on the scene. The injured woman arrived at St. Luke Hospital at 2:56 p.m., more than an hour after dispatch operators received the initial call at 1:39 p.m.

Brandy McCarty, Marion County EMS director, said the primary Marion ambulance was already out on another call. No one else was available with the backup ambulance because two of the six Marion EMTs have had surgery recently and cannot volunteer as they have in the past, McCarty said.

Florence’s volunteer fire department has a schedule in which they have a first responder available from 6 a.m. to noon, and after noon, there is no guarantee to contact someone in Florence, McCarty said.

McCarty said that first responders provide care until proper transportation arrives.

“That’s why first responders are wonderful,” McCarty said. “They get to the incident and start emergency care.”

After transporting the Florence woman to St. Luke, the Hillsboro ambulance team was sent to an asphalt plant nine miles north of Hillsboro where a 38-year-old worker was knocked unconscious after the front-loader he was operating fell off a semi-trailer. First responders from Durham could not be reached.

Dispatch then paged Durham firefighters and when only one responded, dispatch paged Hillsboro firefighters to establish a landing spot for the emergency helicopter, which transported the man with head injuries to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita. During the time dispatch was attempting to contact firefighters, McCarty said she contacted dispatch and offered to call Lincolnville or Tampa but operators said there was no need because Hillsboro was already on their way.

Federal law says that every county must have an ambulance ready to respond to emergencies at all times. Marion County has six ambulances: two in Marion, one in Florence, one in Hillsboro, one in Peabody and one in Tampa.

Marion County Sheriff Robert Craft said emergency services and the fire departments in the county have agreements with neighboring cities to cover calls when any particular ambulance unit is unavailable.

“If we don’t get a response, then we’ll try the next closest zone,” Craft said.

On Wednesday, Oct. 29, a Goessel first responder was sent to an 80-year-old woman who had fallen near 90th and Indigo roads. However, the patient could not be moved until the Hillsboro ambulance arrived 20 minutes after the initial call.

The week began with a traffic accident that was difficult to locate in rural Marion. Fire and rescue personnel responded Oct. 28 to a traffic accident reported near US-56 and Quail Creek Rd., which is about two miles northwest of Marion.

While deputies searched for nearly 15 minutes, dispatchers repeatedly phoned the victim and determined that the correct location of the accident was US-56/77 and 270th Road, about nine miles northeast of Marion.

“The driver had no idea where she was,” Craft said. “It happens occasionally. We kept looking until we did find where she was.”

Last modified Nov. 5, 2014

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