Commission seeks to stop ‘racing’ ambulance services in Meadow River Valley after increasing coverage from just one ambulance

By Bobby Bordelon

After learning the entirety of the Meadow River Valley was operating with one emergency medical services (EMS) provider, often with only one ambulance for the entire region, the Greenbrier County Commission took several actions to improve service to residents. A press release issued by the commission breaks down the problems the region has with this highly essential service.

In evaluating the level of ambulance services in this area, it became obvious that a number of calls for medical emergencies were met with lengthy delays in ambulance response times simply because there were not enough ambulances operating in the region,” reads the press release. “On many occasions, emergency medical service units located in adjacent regions were placed on standby to handle calls for medical emergencies in the Meadow River Valley, but there were a number of times this did not occur because of an oversight on the part of Quinwood Emergency Ambulance, Inc. This oversight caused unsatisfactory response times to several medical emergencies.”

In a previous meeting of the commission on July 14, Commission President Lowell Rose said the call for more emergency service to the Meadow River Valley has been under discussion for years. Moving equipment to the area takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour, and then takes the same time to travel back to the hospital. Rose said he’s received calls from residents in the West End concerned over the limited coverage provided by the Quinwood EMS.

This is an indication that more service must be provided,” explained Rose.

The commission found that for the residents of the Meadow River Valley, EMS was in short supply. According to the press release, “specifically, it was brought to the attention of the Commission that the lone ambulance service that was attempting to cover the entire western region of Greenbrier County was attempting to do so with a single ambulance. The Commission was made aware of a number of calls for emergency medical services that had unsatisfactory response times as a direct result of only having one operational and functioning ambulance in the geographical area that encompasses the Meadow River Valley of Greenbrier County.”

Further inquiry found this was the case – not only was there one company operating as EMS, but that company often functioned with only one ambulance.

During the course of the review, Quinwood Emergency Ambulance, Inc., was able to borrow a second ambulance from an adjacent emergency medical service provider for temporary use while also purchasing another used ambulance. The inquiry revealed that while there have been periods in which Quinwood Emergency Ambulance, Inc. operated more than one ambulance, the company routinely operated only one ambulance while attempting to serve the entire region.”

The actions taken by the Greenbrier County Commission included the following:

Allowing a second emergency medical services provider (White Sulphur Springs EMS) to operate in the Meadow River Valley region of Greenbrier County.

Dividing the large Meadow River Valley region of Greenbrier County into two separate EMS zones, similar to the zones established by the Greenbrier County Commission for the various fire departments that serve the area.

In the July 14 meeting, Quinwood Paramedic/Office Manager Serena Davis explained Quinwood EMS is hampered by budget limits. According to Davis, $90,000 per month is required to maintain payroll, insurance and liabilities for 16 employees, she said, which must also be supplemented by out-of-county services that impact response times.

Obviously, we cannot discuss all our findings in this inquiry related to our evaluation of ambulance services in the Meadow River Valley area of Greenbrier County because the issues that were reviewed and evaluated involve personnel matters, as well as issues related to healthcare privacy, but enough discrepancies and problems were discovered in this inquiry that made the actions taken by the Greenbrier County Commission unavoidable,” explained Commissioner Tammy Tincher. “Essentially, what we found was that the complaints we were receiving from our citizens were sustained, so we had to act. We could not simply continue to overlook the problems or delay a solution to the unsatisfactory ambulance services in the Meadow River Valley.”

In order to increase coverage in the Meadow River Valley, the commission has taken two actions:

During the July 14 meeting, the commission allowed a second emergency medical services provider, White Sulphur Springs EMS, to operate in the Meadow River Valley region of Greenbrier County. According to White Sulphur Springs EMS Paramedic Captain Thomas Hayes, the larger ambulance squad would be able to station at least one ambulance in Rainelle with the option of another as soon as possible “to provide the best patient care.”

It should be noted that White Sulphur Springs EMS stationed ambulance units, medical equipment, and personnel in the Meadow River Valley region immediately following the Commission’s decision so that the agency is able to respond to calls for service in a timely manner as well as meet the goal of the Greenbrier County Commission, which is to provide adequate, timely and reliable ambulance service to all areas of Greenbrier County,” reads the press release.

After White Sulphur EMS was approved to operate, a new major issue emerged – racing ambulances. Mike Honaker, 911 Center director, explained the problem in the July 28 commission meeting.

When White Sulphur Springs became operational out there, the 911 Center began to dual-tone the calls, simply meaning both ambulance services are notified at the same time of a rescue,” Honaker said. “The unintended consequence is, for lack of a better term, racing to calls. Of course I have stressed from day one in public safety that we do not want response times to improve based on fire and rescue driving faster. The answer is always more equipment, more staff, more resources, not driving faster. …

This was creating the unsafe situation of emergency medical transports driving faster and faster to each call.

It’s just human nature for first responders to get to calls as soon as possible,” Honaker explained. “I’m just concerned, either consciously or subconsciously, it’s creating a race. And we do not want that. We don’t want that for the community, we don’t want that for the safety of the people operating or serving in the ambulances. … I think both services agree that rushing to calls to simply try to get the call is not the answer at all. I don’t think that’s going to stop if we continue to dual tone.”

Greenbrier County 911 Director Mike Honaker (left) addresses the Greenbrier County Commission.

Tincher, pointing out the “disappointing” situation, sought to end dual toning and also noted Quinwood EMS should not be responding to calls without them going through the 911 call center.

Ultimately, the second action taken by the commission divided the Meadow River Valley into two separate EMS zones, similar to the zones established by the Greenbrier County Commission for the various fire departments that serve the area. Quinwood EMT to maintain service along Route 20, covering Crawley and Charmco, while White Sulphur Springs EMTs cover Route 60, including Rainelle and Sam Black on I-64.

The county has been divided into areas and to change those areas is probably going to be detrimental to somebody,” said Commissioner Mike McClung. “If you create a competition, somebody has to lose. That being said, I did vote for it, and after the meeting, we met with the parties and they were to have further discussions and apparently what came out of those discussions came the idea of the dual toning, which I don’t think anyone can be surprised did not work out well. I’ll continue to reluctantly agree with the motion that’s on the table.”

One idea not used but brought up by Rose was the removal of Quinwood from the 911 call list entirely.

Quinwood has been a topic of discussion for years as far as their service, or lack thereof,” Rose said. “It seems like when we start to get after [Quinwood] or call them in to talk with us, they pick it up then it goes right back to the way it was. Their response times and their service have not been adequate for the people of the west end of the county.”

Although not likely the final solution to the service issue, the commission hopes this goes toward making decent coverage improvements.

The bottom line is this is a personal safety issue,” Tincher said. “It’s our top priority.”

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