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  • Writer's pictureBill Raines

Editorial: Ambulance Coverage Has Hit Critical Stage in Lawrence County

LAWRENCE COUNTY - (February 22, 2022) - Lawrence County ambulance coverage has been a known concern for several years and was discussed among Lawrence County 911 board since June 2020.

Since 911 Service began in the county several million dollars have been used for the up-to-date equipment, GPS systems for cell phone locations, text 911 etc. The only problem where is your ambulance coming from in Lawrence County?

File photo: Seals Ambulance Service is one of two private companies who provide ambulance coverage without any reimbursement from Lawrence County

The decision for ambulance coverage rests with the legislative bodies of Lawrence County Commissioners, Bedford City Council, Mitchell City Council and Oolitic, with the legal responsibility resting with the Lawrence County Commissioners who are required by law to provide ambulance coverage.

Lawrence County Commissioners have been able to get a free service since the county has been served by two hospital-based ambulance services since the early 1990's.

Currently, St. Vincent Dunn Hospital and IU Health Lifeline Ambulance Service provide 911 service to Lawrence County when their ambulances are available. But, neither ambulance service is under contract to provide ambulance coverage.

This arrangement has provided Lawrence County Government with a free service.

Lawrence County government has provided contractual Extrication agreements for Lawrence County since 1995. The extrication contract to Bedford Fire Department has spanned over 26 years with over $2 Million provided the staffing for two firefighters during this length of time. Despite the extrication services, ambulance coverage has never been addressed by the Lawrence County Commissioners.

Although this has been a savings to taxpayers, the lack of ambulances is becoming a life safety issue that needs addressed.

(IU Lifeline Ambulance provides ambulance coverage in Brown, Lawrence, Monroe and Orange Counties however have not been able to keep up with the influx of emergency calls in all four counties)

However, ambulance contracts and services have never been considered due to the willingness of both hospitals to provide ambulance coverage.

Both hospitals now have changed their hospital critical care coverage to a regional hospital concept to which the transfers of patients from Lawrence County hospitals to critical care hospitals require the ambulance transfers of patients.

St. Vincent Dunn Hospital no longer has ICU coverage at its facility in Bedford.

Seals Ambulance Service and IU Lifeline Ambulance service normally provide at least two ambulances each part of the time. Lately, Seals Ambulance Service has placed one of its ambulances in other counties, and with patient transfers of IU Lifeline Ambulance the available 911 ambulances have been drastically reduced.

Last weekend, Jackson County had to respond to two emergencies in the county, and there were three cardiac arrest events that had increased response times.

In 2019 the City of Mitchell had over 976 EMS Calls and from January 1, 2020, to January 1, 2021, there were over 813 EMS calls for Marion Township. The Mitchell Volunteer Fire Department responds to an average of 3 EMS calls a day at this time. Mitchell was used as example due to its distance from the hospitals.

According to the policy by 911 Board the closest ambulance will be dispatched to emergency medical calls.

Lift assists are dispatched to both the local fire department and ambulance service which takes out an ambulance for a more urgent call.

(Shawswick Volunteer Fire Department is seeking to provide a BLS Ambulance due to lack of coverage in its area)

Since January 2021, the Shawswick Volunteer Fire Department responded to 101 EMS calls with 10 of those responses lift assists.

The Shawswick Volunteer Fire Department to address the lack of ambulance coverage in its response area is attempting to form a Fire Territory to staff the fire department as well as a dedicated BLS ambulance service for its coverage area.

Lawrence County Commissioners also have refused to provide any kind of financial revenue to the local volunteer fire departments who have provided exhaustive emergency medical service to the Lawrence County communities during the COVID pandemic.

Lawrence County received over $1.3 in CARES Act funds from the federal government and is set to receive $8.8 in American Rescue Plan Funds but told the volunteer fire departments in the county they cannot have access to the funds.

So far, Lawrence County Commissioners have not acted or responded to the issue since June 2020. But what are some solutions to the ambulance service debate?

  • Contract ambulance coverage to private provider

  • Establish a county ambulance service

  • Support Shawswick Township Fire Territory Ambulance Service

  • Continue to take no action

The Lawrence County Budget for 2022 is over $28 Million this year, with the Lawrence County Council giving all its county elected leaders a raise of 17 percent. Ambulance coverage was not a consideration by the Lawrence County Commissioners or Lawrence County Council in the 2022 budget.

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