EMS Medical Director Neal Richmond (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Middletown Fire Chief Jeff Riddle (Source: WAVE 3 News)
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Metro Council members on Wednesday laid the blame in several places for the ongoing debate over cutbacks on suburban emergency medical services.
Many suburban fire districts last week stopped responding to all but the highest-priority medical calls, citing tight budgets and an increasing call burden. Wednesday, they said they needed about six times the level of reimbursement for medical services that Mayor Greg Fischer had offered.
Reaction was strong on both sides after WAVE 3 News first reported on the issue July 8, the day 13 of the 17 fire districts in Jefferson County pulled back from most medical runs.
Suburban fire trucks typically arrive to medical emergencies in about five minutes, while it takes ambulances more than eight minutes to arrive because they come from further away, EMS Medical Director Neal Richmond said.
Metro Council members said they wanted the fire districts to respond to every life-threatening call because of the gap in response times. But dispatchers misclassified about 529 life-threatening cardiac arrests in 2013 because callers reported inaccurate information, Richmond said.
To respond to those calls, fire trucks would have to run on about 23,000 calls across the county that could potentially be life-threatening, Middletown Fire Chief Jeff Riddle said.
The fire chiefs had walked away from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s offer of $1 million per year, split among the districts, to help with the extra costs of medical services.
The offer amounted to $43 for each of the 23,000 calls, Riddle said.
“We cannot take the load off EMS, put the burden on us, and still be able to provide fire protection to the community,” Riddle said. Whenever a fire truck leaves the station on a medical run, it leaves fewer people to respond to potential fires, he said.
The reimbursement offer should be $250 per call, or more than $5.7 million a year, Riddle said.
Messages left with Fischer’s office went unreturned Wednesday afternoon. The two sides will resume negotiations next week, Fischer said previously.
Richmond wouldn’t say whether the Fischer administration’s $1 million offer was fair. The administration’s offer remained flat for 10 years, and Richmond admitted that his own agency’s costs rise every year.
“Honestly, I think that could’ve been discussed,” Richmond said. “I think there could be a counteroffer.”
Metro EMS has at least 25 ambulances on duty during peak times of day, and the answer to the problem isn’t more ambulances, Richmond said.
“We are being very, very efficient,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a simple solution out there, that you throw a bunch of ambulances into the suburban fire districts.”
Riddle said he didn’t think Wednesday’s meeting would help or hurt negotiations.
Democratic caucus chairwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, the second-ranking council member, said the public was partly to blame for the problem because some people use ambulances as a “taxi service” to get to the hospital.
“They need to call a friend, call a neighbor, call whoever, to take them to the hospital,” Welch said, “and stop using our ambulance services that are so costly for our city.”
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