Troubleshooters: Floyd County ambulance response times slower than required

The county's contract calls for ambulance to get to scenes within 10 minutes 95% of the time.
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 5:21 PM EDT

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - When you call 911 for a heart attack you expect an ambulance quickly, but in Floyd County, getting an ambulance within 10 minutes has become a coin flip.

County leaders have been at an impasse on how to improve response times.

New Chapel EMS has been the county’s 911 ambulance contractor for six years.

A review board critical of New Chapel’s performance was dissolved in January, but not before it recommended hiring someone else for ambulance service.

“Attention Greenville first responders, New Chapel EMS, P-D is requesting assistance reference overdose,” radioed a Floyd County 911 dispatcher shortly before 11 p.m. on December 30th last year.

Firefighters began heading to the call, but dispatchers called a second time for the county’s contracted ambulance service.

“I wasn’t clear, do you have a unit starting to Frontier Trail?” asked the dispatcher.

“That’s affirmative, going to be squad 67, 6-7,” responded New Chapel EMS.

Dispatchers told both sets of emergency responders the call was serious.

“Squad 67, squad 3, subject is unresponsive, agonal breathing, they’re starting cpr,” radioed Floyd County.

Lafayette firefighters responded in one of their ambulances, but they can only provide basic care. They asked the location of squad 67. New Chapel Chief and CEO Jamey Noel answered.

“We’ve got about a 12 minute ETA,” radioed Noel.

“Okay prepare for an intercept,” said the firefighters.

They loaded the patient into their ambulance and the two crews sorted out where to meet, so they could get the patient more advanced care on the way to the hospital.

“Meet me at Highlander Point, right at the corner where Dairy Queen is,” said the firefighters.

That meeting would never happen.

“We’re not getting the quality of service that we’re supposed to be getting,” Floyd County Commissioner John Schellenberger said.

He is the last commissioner still serving who signed the contract with New Chapel. He regrets that decision.

“I didn’t know then what I know now,” Schellenberger said.

Schellenberger spent a year tracking and calculating response times for every ambulance dispatch every day. What he found deeply concerned the County’s former EMS Advisory Board.

“We’re paying for two and a half ambulances, but we’re not sure where they’re stationed or where they’re coming from,” said Schellenberger.

The county pays New Chapel $220,000 a year for two full time and one part time ambulance. The contract says New Chapel believes two and a half ambulances can respond to 911 calls in under 10 minutes, 95 percent of the time.

However, remember what Noel radioed on the 30th.

“We’ve got about a 12 minute eta,” said Noel.

Schellenberger found month after month, New Chapel’s ambulances took more than 10 minutes to get to a 911 call on every other dispatch.

WAVE calculated response times for the week of November 20th last year using Schellenberger’s method.

WAVE found New Chapel ambulances needed to be on scene in under ten minutes on 65 calls that week to meet the standard in the contract. Its ambulances only met it 35 times.

“They signed the contract, send monthly payments, and nobody is minding the store to make sure the contract is being met,” former EMS Advisory Board Member Gary Kleeman said.

Kleeman managed Harrison County’s EMS service for years. He said the board worried about where New Chapel’s ambulances were coming from because New Chapel is contracted for emergency ambulance service in both Floyd and Clark counties.

“We have to know that those ambulances are staffed and located in the county and are not being utilized routinely in other counties,” said Kleeman.

911 records from December 30th show eight New Chapel ambulances worked in Floyd County that day. However, every single ambulance also responded to 911 calls in neighboring Clark County.

“If they were strategically placed around the county the response times would be a lot lower than what they are,” said Schellenberger.

“During peak times, and it doesn’t matter where it’s at, we will share assets,” New Chapel CEO Jamey Noel said.

Noel said he had 10 ambulances working on December 30th. Six responded to Floyd County calls in a two and a half hour period, well above his contracted amount.

“So if you have five EMS runs that come out within a 35 minute period in Floyd County you’re not gonna cover them with 2 and ½ ambulances, and vice versa with Clark County,” said Noel.

Noel said when 911 gets busy, his supervisors will call in backup crews to get ambulances where they’re needed. He also flatly disagrees with Schellenberger’s analysis of New Chapel’s response times.

“I can’t speak to his data because I have no way of verifying it and there’s been some allegations that that data was manipulated, so I can’t speak to that,” said Noel. “I can only speak to the data that’s computed by the Sheriff’s Office. Its always been 10, 9 minutes or less, always within the national average.”

The latest data from the Floyd County Sheriff’s office shows New Chapel ambulances took an average of 9 minutes 32 seconds to drive to a scene.

“Some of them are going to be a little bit longer,” Noel said. “Our goal is to always get there as fast as possible.”

Noel reports that number back to the county as his response time. But when you include the average time it took to get the ambulance rolling, (+4:40) and subtract the average dispatch time (-:28), New Chapel’s response time increased to an average of more than 13 minutes.

“The only thing I have to go on is past performance and past peformance has not been stellar,” said Kleeman.

Floyd County asked for bids for a new EMS contract in the fall.

Two companies responded, American Medical Response and New Chapel EMS.

New Chapel is the low bidder, asking for $766,000 to provide three full time ambulances.

The EMS Advisory Board sent its recommendation to the commissioners before being dissolved in January. Renegotiating with New Chapel EMS was third on its list.

“I don’t know if that will work out,” Kleeman said.

New Chapel EMS was the low bidder in Floyd County.

However it was not when Clark County put ambulance service up for bid early last year.

Thursday, WAVE will examine the political connections between New Chapel’s leader and the politicians voting on these contracts.