York County volunteer, paid EMS squads still at odds

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comNovember 20, 2012 

— EMS volunteers in Lake Wylie say they aren’t much closer to resolving the dispatch dipute with the county and Piedmont Medical Center. In fact, they could be further away.

River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS and Fort Mill Rescue have been concerned about county plans to change the way emergency response operates in York County. In the plan, a Piedmont Medical Center physician – Piedmont is their paid counterpart and competition – would be in control of their medical care. Squads also would have to up the amount of certified EMTs on each call and would be required to provide full 24-hour service.

Those issues alone, squad leaders have said in recent months, could change the way they operate, if they’d be able to continue at all.

The countywide system rework is being done to eliminate the dual dispatch system, where two units respond or, as some suggested have suggested in the past year, “race” to a patient. Instead, the county wants to dispatch the nearest ambulance. Last week, the River Hills unit had GPS devices installed as a pilot for all units in the county.

Following the Nov. 12 discussion, there’s an even bigger concern. Dick Mann, president of River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS, said it’s been his impression an ambulance would return to its area after transporting a patient to Piedmont hospital. But during the Nov. 12 discussion, Mann said Piedmont believed an ambulance would remain in the Rock Hill area to await the next closest call. While, for instance, River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS waited for the next call after transport, a Piedmont ambulance may serve Lake Wylie.

Mann called the idea “totally unworkable” and “most upsetting,” perhaps even more than the medical control issue. He said squads like his and the one in Fort Mill rely on community donations.

“If we do that, we are ignoring our support, the people who donate to us,” Mann said.

River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS is the only service that provides free emergency transport, or as started in 2010, recoups some money from insurance companies when patients are covered.

“Honestly, I can’t see any way that this thing moves forward within the next two or three months,” he said of a final countywide plan.

Still, Mann said, some progress has been made, such as the county vowing to oversee the medical control physician to make sure volunteer units are being treated fairly. Though Mann wonders how practical it is having County Council or the county manager in that role.

“They have no medical background or idea of what should or should not be done,” he said.

Brian Murphy, a Fort Mill Rescue board member, said EMS providers need an “impartial” authority making calls about emergency care and asked whether the county had considered alternatives.

Charlie Miller, former Piedmont CEO and current consultant for the hospital, answered questions about ambulance service but didn’t address the rescue squads’ concerns about medical control.

County Manager Jim Baker and council chairman Britt Blackwell assured squads that county staff members working on revising contracts with Piedmont and the rescue squads don’t want to bring harm to the county’s volunteer squads.

Having Piedmont provide the medical control service would save the county money, said Assistant County Manager Anna Moore, who added the county hasn’t examined what it would cost to hire their own physician for that service.

Local squads aren’t saying what their response might be if the current plan passes.

“I’m always optimistic that we can finally start moving toward a solution,” Mann said.

The Herald contributed to this story.

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