Late arrivals, no-shows plague ambulance service
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
An unresponsive local woman had to be taken by private vehicle to Atmore Community Hospital this week when no ambulance was available to handle the job. And public safety officials say that’s just the latest in a string of recent no-shows or late arrivals by ASAP EMS ambulance crews.
“We had one just last night,” Atmore Fire Chief Ron Peebles said Monday, February 15. “There was no ambulance in town, and we’re not equipped to carry patients, so our firefighters helped put a lady in her 70s into a car so she could go to the hospital. Three weeks ago, on a Monday, we had five medical calls, and not one of them was answered by ASAP, not one.”
Mayor Jim Staff said the stream of complaints against ASAP has reached epidemic proportion.
“It’s bad, it is bad,” Staff said. “Almost every day we have problems with them. And the ambulances they do have won’t run but about half the time.”
Until two years ago, there were two private ambulance services operating within the city, Atmore Ambulance Service and ASAP, which was issued a license due to poor response times by Atmore Ambulance. ASAP eventually bought its competitor, and things began to work smoothly. For a while.
“About a year or two ago, when the ambulance services first merged, there were better response times,” said Police Chief Chuck Brooks, whose department includes emergency dispatchers. “Recently we’ve been getting complaints from the hospital, complaints from our officers at the scene of a medical emergency, complaints from citizens. We’ve had to reach out several times to another ambulance service to come respond.”
Peebles said ASAP CEO Kevin Smith has failed to live up to numerous promises he made when his company first started doing business here, and again when the community’s concerns were relayed to him.
“He sat right here in my office and promised what they were going to do, and he hasn’t lived up to any of it,” said the fire chief , whose resources are often called to fill in for absent ambulances. “He said they would keep at least one ambulance available here at all times. There was a handshake agreement, and he said he would bring one from Monroe County if all their others were in service. He has not done that.”
Smith had not replied by Tuesday’s press deadline to an emailed request for comment on the situation.
A meeting to discuss a possible solution to the problem was held recently. It was attended by Staff, Chris Griffin (CEO of Escambia County Healthcare Authority), Suzanne McGill (Interim Administrator for Atmore Community Hospital) and Brad Lowery (ACH’s Director of Operations). The meeting also included Chairwoman Stephanie Bryan, April Sells and Chris McGhee of the Poarch Creek Indians Tribe, and Escambia County Commission Chairman Raymond Wiggins.
Staff explained that a plan is in the works under which a countywide public ambulance service would operate out of Brewton’s D.W. McMillan Hospital, where the ambulance dispatch system has been extremely successful. He added that ASAP brought on its own headaches.
“We’re trying to work though this thing, make something happen,” the mayor said. “It’s going to happen; it’s just taking a while to get it all lined out. We wouldn’t even be looking at (a new plan) if they had done like they were supposed to do. We even called (Smith) back in, and he said he was going to make it happen. He has not.”
Peebles reported that negotiations are ongoing with MedStar to provide emergency medical services in the interim. The company already has a local business license but no local headquarters.
Griffin said ECHCA would do everything possible to improve the level of ambulance service in the county.
“The Escambia County Healthcare Authority and Atmore Community Hospital are committed to supporting the EMS services needed for our community,” the head of the county healthcare authority said. “We are committed to being a partner regarding any solutions that improve EMS services for our community.”