'Best Rural Ambulance' Hampered By Outdated 911
Posted on Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
Tad Hall, P.A., manager of Mercy Health/Love County Emergency Department and Love County EMS, and Dr. Vergil Smith pause in the emergency department to talk about what E911 will mean.
Love County offers arguably the best rural ambulance service in Oklahoma – 28 paramedics and EMTs, two stations, five ambulances, a rescue unit, and advanced life-support capabilities for adults and children.
Too bad they don’t know where they’re going.
But 911 calls for medical assistance don’t come in at the hospital or ambulance.
Information has to be radioed second-hand by an emergency dispatcher.
Even if the call came direct, the call-taker has little to go by except the voice of the 911 caller, who may be confused, excited, or simply unable to give accurate location or driving information.
More radio traffic may be heard from responding police or firefighters.
At times it all adds up to a “circle conversation,” said Tad Hall, P.A., manager of Mercy Health/Love County Emergency Department and Love County EMS.
“One misspoken word in the telling or retelling can disrupt call response. Saying ‘west’ instead of ‘east’ for Highway 32 can delay care for 15 minutes. More than once units en route have been going away from rather than toward the scene,” Hall said.
Ideally, paramedics know both the location and the nature of the incident before setting out, he explained.
“The ambulance driver will be occupied with driving, and the paramedic in the passenger seat should be taking some time to review written references on how to treat the medical emergency. Instead, that person is spending all their time on communications trying to find the emergency.”
Enhanced 911 call answering can clear up much of the confusion about where calls are coming from, Hall said. It will supplement the caller’s voice with an electronic display of the caller’s name, telephone number, 911 street and house number address, or map location.
The dispatcher will still talk to the caller, but even if unable to speak, the caller may be found through the electronic technology.
The E911 service will begin to be implemented for both landlines and cell phones pending voter approval of service fees on Dec. 8. The fee rates, capped by law, are 15% of base connection fee (approximately $2.50 per month currently) for a landline telephone and $.050 per month for a wireless telephone.
Implementation is expected to take up to three years. It will begin with mapping and addressing all residences and naming unnamed roads and streets. The resulting “911 address” will furnish GPS coordinates that responders can view on an electronic map and drive toward.
Forty of the state’s 160 ambulance services have closed in the last five years – mainly due to scarce talent, according to Eddy Manley, training coordinator of the EMS Division of the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
Not so in Love County. Under hospital management the past 16 years, ambulance service has improved from basic EMT to paramedic certification, the number of medics has grown to 28, and a cadre of volunteer medical responders (first on the scene), search and rescue, and air evacuation resources have been carefully enlisted and developed.
It hardly makes sense to medics to let an outdated 911 system get in the way of rapid response.
“Time is of the essence for the preservation of life. Paramedics don’t have the advantage of being lost. We need the tools to get these highly-qualified assets to the people. We’re depending upon the community to give us the tools to improve their position for good health,” said Richard Barker, Mercy Health/Love County CEO.