Response times at heart of York County EMS dispute

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comFebruary 12, 2013 

— Volunteer rescue squads haven’t been short on issues with new county contract proposals, the latest having been put off last week by York County Council. But this one, they say, could be dire.

The latest map provided to squads shows a one-mile radius surrounding city limits getting a required eight-minute response time, compared to a three-mile radius as discussed in the fall. The areas cut out would now be served in a required 12 minutes. The difference, some say, literally can be life or death.

“Minutes matter,” said Leo Yakutis, board member with River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS.

Lake Wylie isn’t incorporated and so does not have municipal limits, but the population is significant enough to include a marker on the map using Three Points as the hub. Areas cut out of the larger radius from last fall include all of River Hills, Five Points, commercial areas north of S.C. 49 and homes along most of the Big Allison, Little Allison and Crowders Creek peninsulas.

The Landing is the only Lake Wylie neighborhood that falls completely within the one-mile radius.

The Carowinds area of Fort Mill, along with actively developing portions just southeast of that town, also wouldn’t be included.

New contracts would involve the county’s paid service from Piedmont Medical Center, and volunteer units. Volunteers from both Lake Wylie and Fort Mill argued against the new contracts at Council’s meeting last week, citing numerous concerns. The response time issue is one they’re hoping will draw public outcry.

“The fight is about providing the best ambulance response for our families, neighbors, friends and coworkers,” said Dick Mann, president of River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS. “The response times as changed and other contract items work against that goal.”

Councilman Michael Johnson received dozens of phone calls within days of last week’s decision to delay action. He expects at least two committee meetings and a public meeting before a resolution is reached. He does not anticipate that happening within the 30-day window discussed by Chairman Britt Blackwell.

“I would venture you’re probably talking closer to 60 days,” Johnson said.

Blackwell and Councilman Chad Williams voted against delaying a decision. Williams said the morning of the vote the reason for this whole contract issue coming up, dual dispatch, needs to be resolved so multiple agencies aren’t racing to patients.

Williams wants county action before the state decides to intervene.

“We need to solve it before they solve it for us,” he said.

Johnson agrees dual dispatch needs to go, but has concerns like “stacking” ambulances where one agency could park on either side of another and prevent its competition from fielding calls. There’s also an expected Fort Mill hospital that’s been awarded to Carolinas HealthCare System, though Piedmont’s parent company is contesting.

Johnson is concerned, “based on who’s won to date,” with the possibility of Piedmont being contracted for ambulance service and having to deliver patients to a competitor.

“I’m concerned that that won’t happen,” Johnson said.

Hundreds of online and paper signatures have been collected in Lake Wylie asking Council not to approve the contracts as currently written. Dozens of speakers have addressed Council on the issue. Council, county staff and emergency responders have been working for more than a year on the contracts. Initially squads were concerned with medical control, or whether a Piedmont-appointed physician would oversee their operations.

That issue could’ve been a death blow for volunteer units, some said. It was resolved in the latest contracts, provided to squads and Council less than 72 hours before the expected vote last week.

“It was one victory followed by several steps backward that more than offset the victory on medical control,” Mann said.

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