Emergency personnel: Response times key in ambulance bid

Published 8:32 pm Thursday, December 4, 2008

Though they won’t have the final say, local emergency officials will have some input into who is awarded the county’s ambulance bid.

Troy Fire Chief Thomas Outlaw, Police Chief Anthony Everage and CEO of Troy Regional Medical Center Rusty Eldridge said they haven’t decided who they want to be the provider for Pike County, but they do have some thoughts.

Among the top priorities on the list for all three is ambulance response time.

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“I think the issues we deal with are response times from a public safety standpoint,” Everage said. “Of the complaints we have had, a lot have been about response times, and that’s something we need to look at.”

Two agencies – current-contract holder Care and former contract-holder Haynes – both have submitted bids to become the county’s primary ambulance service provider. Although only one company will be awarded the contract, both have pledged to maintain a presence in the county. The Troy and Brundidge councils and Pike County Commission must award the bid prior to Dec. 13.

Outlaw said response time was also at the top of his list when it comes to choosing an ambulance service.

“Response time is probably the number one priority,” Outlaw said.

Another big discussion among those choosing the bids is whether to have local dispatching services located in Pike County or a centralized dispatch service out of Montgomery.

Everage said he is seeking some answers before he recommends one way or the other.

“I would want to have an idea of if this local dispatch would be staffed by local dispatchers,” Everage said, referring to the fact that both companies offered no-charge bids to the government agencies if dispatching is handled through a centralized office in Montgomery. Haynes bid $6,250 per month to provide local dispatch, and Care bid $8,500 per month.

“That’s a question we would like to have an answer to,” Everage said. “Where would these dispatchers come from?”

Haynes’ Chief Operating Officer Kirk Barrett said if his company receives the contract, and local dispatch is stipluated, Pike County natives will be the dispatchers.

“We already have employees that are from Pike County and know the local area, so we would have local residents as local dispatchers,” Barrett said.

But Care Operations Manager Mike Sandell said that may not necessarily be the case with his company.

“If they were dispatched locally, we would try to hire people from Pike County,” Sandell said. “But you don’t have many people to pick from that are considered to be Pike County natives.”

Sandell bases that information on statistics from the Alabama Department of EMS and Trauma, which breaks down 28 licensed EMTs, three intermediate EMTs and three licensed paramedics who are from Pike County.

Of those, he said, some may no longer be practicing or may have relocated.

Both ambulance services said centralized dispatching does not necessarily guarantee anyone from Pike County would be employed by the company’s dispatch.

Outlaw said he doesn’t necessarily support local dispatching, but he is certain communication needs to improve.

“We’re going to try to establish a better line of communication,” Outlaw said. “In the past, (the ambulances and crews) have been dispatched through Southern Linc, and we haven’t had any capability of having communications with them.”

Eldridge said from a hospital standpoint, he doesn’t really have an opinion either way, though local dispatch seems to have more appeal.

“I can certainly see the benefit of local dispatch because the people are right here. They know the roads,” Eldridge said. “Both of them have an option for centralized dispatch, but just on the surface, you would think the local dispatching could be better.”

Eldridge said he looks forward to further studying the bids and providing input on who is the chosen ambulance provider.

“We’re going to work with the county and the city councils to make sure we have the best deal for our residents,” Eldridge said.