Ruckel addresses ambulance service concerns

Ambulance logoLewis County Judge Executive Todd Ruckel says he is addressing concerns about response times for ambulance personnel to arrive at a location after being dispatched.

Ruckel said he had received reports that at times it takes 30 minutes or longer for an ambulance to get to the scene once they are dispatched.

“I’m getting some phone calls about our ambulance service’s slow response times,” Ruckel told magistrates during a regular session of fiscal court on Monday.

“On some occasions there are slow response times,” he said. “We’ve pulled some of our CADs from 911.”

CAD is short for computer-aided dispatch. The system at the 911 dispatch center produces incident reports that include the times police, fire, rescue and other first responder units are dispatched to a location, when they arrive there, and when they depart.

“Each ambulance service has to have a certificate of need in your county to do business,” Ruckel explained.

“Lewis County has been granted one certificate of need for the entire county,” Ruckel said. “That was given to Portsmouth Ambulance when they came in after (King’s Daughters Medical Center) left, back five years ago, roughly.”

“Portsmouth Ambulance, once they get that certificate of need, has full control of that certificate of need until they give it up or the state would pull it from them,” he said.

“The only way the state could pull it from them is if they are not meeting regulation,” Ruckel said. “They are, at this point.”

Ruckel said he provided information to an official at the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services in relation to the complaints he had received.

Ruckel said he told the official the response time to the scene was 30 minutes or longer on several instances that he had reviewed.

Ruckel said he had spoken with legislators concerning the possibility of changing regulations to help shorten the time between a unit being dispatched and arriving on the scene.

“I don’t know what we could change it to, it’s something we could look at,” he said.

“To get a second certificate of need, we can apply, through Lewis County Fiscal Court, for a second certificate of need if we feel like we need it,” he said.

“I’m OK with that,” he told magistrates. “As a matter of fact, I feel like it’s probably something we might need to do. The only thing is, do we need to, or do we need to just hold (Portsmouth Ambulance) more accountable?”

“We really can’t hold them more accountable unless we would have a second certificate of need,” Ruckel added.

“I checked on mutual aid,” he said. “Mutual aid agreements are all set by Portsmouth Ambulance. Fiscal court – the county – cannot have those mutual aid agreements. It has to come through Portsmouth Ambulance.”

Mutual aid agreements allow for providers in neighboring counties, or areas, to provide service in another area if needed and by following any stipulations outlined in the agreements.

“The second certificate of need, I’ve got a timeline on that,” he said.

“I’ve got a 20-page application that has to be filled out. That has to be submitted by January 24th, that’s the next cycle,” he said.

“If we get that submitted by January 24th, they will have a public notice and hearing on March 15th,” Ruckel said.

The hearing will allow interested parties to be present and speak for or against allowing a second certificate of need to be granted for the county.

“Portsmouth Ambulance may show up and say, ‘No, we’re covering the county.’ And that’s OK if they do. And then it will go before a board for a decision on June 13th,” he told magistrates.

Ruckel said certificates of need are granted through the Kentucky Health and Family Services Cabinet.

“I realize that some of the public feel like we need to do something different,” he said. “I wanted to let them know that our hands are tied unless we would do a second certificate of need. I’m not sure that’s the answer.”

Ruckel said he was open to suggestions and magistrates discussed a few possible options.

“It’s something to think about,” said Magistrate Steve Applegate. “Having a second certificate of need, just on hand, is not going to hurt anything.”

“Our application doesn’t need to be in until January 24th. Do you all want to talk to some of your constituents and see what you get?” Ruckel asked magistrates.

“I have made contact calls with Portsmouth Ambulance, their owners, about three different times and have gotten no return phone call as of yet,” Ruckel said.

He added he recently learned of a death in the family of one of the owners and said they may have been out of the office and dealing with that matter.

“I was going to give them some time and then try to contact them again,” he said.

Ruckel said the ambulance provider is following regulations by having an ambulance in the county at all times. He added, however, many times the ambulance is stationed near Firebrick, on the eastern edge of the county, and responding to a call on the other end of the county could take 30 minutes or longer.

Magistrate David Iery suggested tabling the matter to allow Ruckel time to talk with Portsmouth Ambulance officials and try to work out a solution and also allow magistrates time to speak with their constituents concerning the issue.

“I’ll make a motion to table it until next month but I’d like to hear back what they tell you,” Iery told Ruckel.

Magistrate Woody Underwood seconded the motion and all members voted in agreement.

The next regular meeting of fiscal court is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on December 11 on the third floor of the Lewis County Courthouse.

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