03/12/10 — Emergency call load increasing in county

View Archive

Emergency call load increasing in county

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 12, 2010 1:46 PM

With ambulance calls increasing steadily, Wayne County commissioners will be pondering over the next few months whether, and how, the county Emergency Medical System could be expanded.

Commissioners will soon be looking over plans for 2010-11 budget that could include recommendations for a 10th EMS station or the addition of more ambulances at existing stations, County Manager Lee Smith said.

During budget sessions, the commissioners will be looking at numbers that show a drastic increase in the volume of both emergency calls and non-emergency calls. EMS calls are up about 4,000 over the past five years, statistics show

The non-emergency service Wayne NET was initiated in August 2006 to provide transportation for stretcher- and wheelchair-bound residents 24 hours a day. It helps non-emergency patients with transportation to doctor appointments, dialysis, hospital admission and discharges. It also offers transport for out-of-town appointments.

Although it is not designed to serve as a true emergency service, it is being called into that role more and more as the number of calls increase. Emergency crews answered more than 14,500 calls in Wayne County last year.

The county's five-year capital improvement plan does not include a new EMS station. However, Smith said that project could be "pay-as-you-go" unless the amount tops $200,000.

It costs between $125,000 and $145,000 to outfit an ambulance, he said. Additional costs include the five people needed to work as the crew. As such, it might make more sense to simply double up ambulances at an existing location rather than to build an expensive new station, Smith said.

Both Smith and Trey Rhodes, assistant EMS manager, agree that northern Wayne County -- possibly Pikeville or Belfast -- would be the logical place to expand because of that area's rapid growth.

Wayne NET currently has ambulances stationed in Seven Springs, Rosewood, Grantham, at the Jeffreys Building on John Street, Central Heights, North Madison Avenue, Fremont, Dudley and Mount Olive.

"We run three full-time (Wayne NET) trucks, and based on call volume, we may pick a truck, it may be four trucks that day, it might be five trucks, but we run three full time with a planner and NET coordinator," Rhodes said.

"We stage the people. If they have a two-hour downtime during the day, whatever time it is, we send them to Pinewood Fire Station to stage and back up the 911 system. That can change. Our primary is going to Pinewood Fire Station. If the south end is busy then we send them to the Mar Mac Fire Station."

Pinewood was settled on primarily because of its strategic location, he said.

"We have a big area between Station 5, which is Central Heights, and Fremont," Rhodes said. "We have a big area there and (the Pinewood truck) fills in that area. What happens is that the 911 truck is dispatched. The NET truck that is at Pinewood or that area or the south end, the east end or the north end, whatever, would respond with the 911 truck. Then the first truck on the scene assesses the patient and makes the determination to cancel the other truck.

"So if NET gets there first, they assess the patient and say, 'We can handle the patient,' it clears that 911 truck to take the next call. If they get there and it is a paramedic call, then they tell them to come on in and the NET truck is freed up. So they are still in that area for the next call."

Personnel on the NET trucks are EMTs and the NET coordinator is a paramedic.

"So if we have to, we have the equipment up there to put him on a truck and make it a paramedic truck," Rhodes said.

"We changed this about three or four months ago. (NET trucks) were running out of the Madison (Avenue station) just backing up city trucks because our city trucks were just getting slammed. We have stations running 250 to 300 calls a month. We decided to move them when they have that two-hours between calls. We don't want to interfere with non-emergency calls, but we don't want to let the 911 side go lacking for the citizens of Wayne County so what we did, we just moved them out so they can respond in. It cuts down on response time."

If Wayne NET is running four trucks and two of them have a break between scheduled trips, one will go to Pinewood and one to the south end.

"The problem is, the reason we are doing it, since 2004 our call volume has gone up 27 percent on the EMS side," Rhodes said. "That is where we get into looking at the next station, station 10. The population is getting older and we are also running 911 on the base now so we have picked up a lot of 911 calls. Our calls on the 911 side for 2009 were 14,213. On the NET side we are averaging about 400 to 415 that is just non-emergency transport.

"We are picking up on the average to 45-47 911 calls on top of that. It is working out pretty good for us backing up the 911 side," he said. "You will never have enough ambulances. We have nine, but say on a certain day at a certain time we have 10 with that NET truck backing up the 911 side. But it doesn't take but 11 phone calls to the 911 center and we are tied up everything. Then we would back up and call JAS (Johnston Ambulance Service)."

Wayne NET runs three full-time trucks every day and has run up to as many as five. It has nine full-time and 10 part-time employees. On the EMS side, there are 57 full-time employees including three shift supervisors, and 20 to 25 part-time workers.

"If someone needs non-emergency transport they wouldn't call 911," Rhodes said. "(Wayne NET) is a complete entity. That way we are not pulling 911 trucks away from the county to run non-emergency calls. We will use them to back up the 911 side, but we will not use a 911 truck to run non-emergency call just because it pulls from the community."