Members of the York County Council might suffer some frustration for spending nearly a year studying and debating changes in the county’s emergency medical system only to arrive back close to where they started. Nonetheless, they managed to improve the system without wading into questionable legal waters that might have resulted in a lawsuit.
For much of the past year, several council members have negotiated with Piedmont Medical Center, which operates the countywide EMS system, and two volunteer rescue squads in the Lake Wylie and Fort Mill areas over the response policies. At issue were the practice of ambulances from separate agencies racing each other to emergencies and how fast response times should be in different parts of the county.
The issue of response time standards was one of the most hotly debated. The county had considered using the severity of the emergency as a standard rather than the distance to the location of the emergency.
So, under the proposed standard, instead of giving PMC more time to respond to calls in western York County because it is farther away than Rock Hill, PMC would base its deadlines on whether an emergency was life threatening or less serious. On Monday night, however, the council scrapped those proposals and voted only to eliminate the dual dispatch of ambulances.
PMC still will be required to respond to calls in western York County within 20 minutes and Rock Hill within 12 minutes. Those are the standards already established under the hospital’s existing contract.
That drew the ire of two council members, Bruce Henderson and Joe Cox, both of whom were involved in negotiations and who championed faster response times in rural western areas of the county. But the council voted 5-2 Monday to approve the agreement.
While the effort to amend the policy took many months, the delay gave county attorneys the time to look over the proposals for any provisions that could be legally problematic. As a result, the contract proposal was heavily edited, leaving only the provision ending dual dispatches.
And, ultimately, that was the most important consideration. The practice was questioned in January 2012 by the State Department of Health and Environmental Control, and it clearly has posed a hazard to both EMS squads and others who share the roads.
The pared-down version of the new policy is a workable plan that ends this dangerous practice. Council Chairman Britt Blackwell has called it a “foundation” for further discussion on how to improve response times.
PMC now runs the county’s EMS service at no cost to the county. If the county wants to demand more from the hospital’s ambulance teams, it might have to consider paying for those improvements.
For now, though, we think the policy has been improved. Maybe all those involved had to go through the long negotiation process to get to that point.