Lexington County EMS says it’s seeking to improve response times and adopt new strategies to deal with emergency calls.
With a local group continuing to push for improvements amid what it says are unacceptable response times, Lexington County EMS says it’s seeking to improve response times and adopt new strategies to deal with emergency calls.
County EMS Chief Brian Hood provided Lexington County Council with an update on services at the Sept. 12 meeting. The new report comes after residents in the Chapin area expressed concerns after an ambulance was taken out of service earlier this year.
Chapin residents continue to voice their concerns, with the Lexington County Ambulance Response Solutions Team holding its latest meeting Sept. 25, continuing to discuss the issues it sees.
The meeting included a presentation charting growth of the county versus growth of medical personnel, accounts of bad response times, and potential courses of action.
“Our concern is that we're not getting 12-minute responses. We have heard up to two hours,” Heather Burkart, retired registered nurse and a key organizer of the group, said, referring to the average response time the county has reported. “We are fighting for a healthy positive environment for our EMS workforce.”
“We are not criticizing our EMS workforce,” she added “We are supporting them. We are fighting for them”
According to Hood, the county is fine-tuning response procedures to make sure ambulances are not dispatched unnecessarily, which is often the case with callers who need medical attention but not emergency hospital treatment.
The service has also contracted with a private ambulance service to handle low-priority calls.
About a month ago, the Chronicle requested comprehensive numbers of emergency medical employees and openings at the county, along with response times and the number of ambulances in service. Those numbers have yet to be provided.
Hood said Lexington County EMS is facing the same problems as other counties throughout the state: higher call volumes and staffing shortages. He added that the service is dealing with the problems, carefully assessing calls that often do not require an emergency response.
“There's no doubt that emergency medical services, much like emergency rooms in our country, are at a crossroads,” he told council. “If you've been to any emergency department in or around Lexington County, you will have found wait times that are measured in hours and not minutes. Our mission is growing more and more watered down by the day.”
[Clarification: After this article was originally published, the county reached out to the Chronicle stating that Hood was exclusively referring to emergency rooms, not EMS, when he said wait times can last hours.]
People sometimes call about health issues that could be addressed by a family physician, he added.
At the Ambulance Response Solutions Team meeting, Jason Resnick, a former Lexington County EMS employee, questioned the efficacy of MedTrust compared to Lexington County EMS personnel.
The group said it has received a multitude of anonymous stories where someone they knew did not get adequate care. Robin Veneri Legg, a member of the group, recounted stories where people in dire conditions were waiting for one or two hours before an ambulance arrived, one being told to meet the ambulance at a Publix while in anaphylactic shock.
Slow response times aren't the only concern the group has. They’re also concerned with how the county's growth stacks up against what they characterize as stagnant growth of the EMS department. According to information provided during the meeting, Lexington County’s population has grown by roughly 74,000 residents, though the number of emergency vehicles has remained the same.
Resnick provided statistics, stating that in 2003 the county operated with 14 vehicles during the day and 10 at night, and now in 2023 the county is still operating with 14 during the day with a minimum of seven at night.
The team added that some of these vehicles in use are Quick Response Vehicles, which are often unable to transport patients to the hospital.
At the meeting, the group complained that fire services within the county have grown alongside its population, with equipment upgrades, more stations, staffing improvements and training, while EMS has not.
In an interview with the Chronicle, County Council Member Charli Wessinger said the service is now much more effective because of the improvements Hood has installed, including training, education and recruiting initiatives.
“We have made major improvements,” said Wessinger, whose District 6 includes the Chapin area.
Better efforts at recruitment are helping with short-handed staff, she said, and increasing pay levels and working with students in the paramedic field has helped a lot.
Wessinger said the county is now paying tuition costs for students entering the paramedics field who will join the Lexington County EMS service. The problem with recruiting new paramedics is that fewer candidates are entering the field, as the career is not attracting nearly as many people as it did in the past.
“It’s a worldwide problem,” she said.
The Ambulance Response Solutions Team also touched on the shortage of paramedics within the county, bringing up that Lexington County’s pay isn’t competitive with surrounding counties and is the second lowest in the state.
According to the team, the pay for EMS within the county has only increased 4.75% since 2017.
Council Member Larry Brigham Jr., chair for the Health and Human Services Committee that received Hood’s report, was also pleased with the improvements that have been undertaken.
“We are ahead of the curb,” Brigham told the Chronicle after Tuesday’s meeting. “We have a good staff. 911 is working.”
The Ambulance Response Solutions Team said it has requested response time data from June 2022 to July 2023 and were denied that information.
The team encourages residents to attend council meetings and committee meetings, email their designated council member, take a class to get CPR certified so that you can help in a time of crisis and stay active on the team's Facebook for updates.
“The more people that show up, the more they will remember if we're a thorn in their side,” said one team member. “We [will] continue to go and continue to send the same message, we will eventually get something, something will happen.”
Jordan Lawrence contributed to this report.
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