By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Calls for COVID-19 related issues like shortness of breath are on the rise, Carter County EMS director Rick Loperfido told the board during their regular September meeting. This coincides with an uptick in cases across Kentucky, with the risk in Carter at a medium to high rate, depending on the source consulted.
While the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services places Carter County in the yellow, or medium risk for the community, with their September 30 report, the Mayo Clinic infographic paints a slightly different picture. On their map Carter County is among the darkest colored counties, with a reported 45+ average daily cases per 100,000 people. But while that dark color might seem alarming, that’s a fraction of a percentage (.045 percent), and much lower than the 9.01 percent state-wide weekly positivity rate estimated by Health and Family Services.
But even if the numbers aren’t nearly as high as the Mayo map colors alone might suggest, the ambulance service has noticed an increase in calls from people with COVID infections or COVID related symptoms, Loperfido said.
What concerns him more, though, are the increasing volume of calls related to non-emergency issues.
“We routinely see each month, for all who are requesting emergency transports, (that) many of our 911 calls we respond to daily are medically not what should be considered meeting ‘medical necessity’ for the purpose of… an ambulance transport,” Loperfido told the board.
He said they were seeing this increase despite attempts to educate the public through news and media outreach about when it was appropriate to call 911.
But, he said, it also still included an increasing number of requests for “haul backs” from St. Claire Medical Center in Morehead.
“We are attempting to haul back individuals as we have available trucks, who are already over at the hospital dropping off patients,” he told the board. “But we first must make certain we have adequate coverage for the county with trucks for emergency calls.”
This is the same explanation Loperfido has put forward in previous board meetings, as well as when discussing the issue with the fiscal court.
In a fiscal court meeting last month Loperfido explained that the Rowan County EMS were refusing the calls for transport from St. Claire, and said the hospital was more concerned with clearing beds and moving patients out than with Carter County’s need to maintain adequate staff for emergency responses.
The ambulance service’s slow response time on some of these transport request has drawn the ire of some elected officials. Olive Hill mayor Jerry Callihan, discussing the ambulance service with judge executive candidate Duane Suttles during the public comment period of their last regular meeting, was openly critical of the service.
Callihan said he had a family friend who waited more than 12 hours for a transport, which turned into 16 hours by the time they were able to find a way home for him.
“I don’t know how to say it without being vulgar but it (the ambulance service) sucks,” Callihan told Suttles.
He then noted that the ambulance service, like other public services, was struggling with finances, but said they were rejecting paying jobs while doing so.
“This was a paying run for our ambulance service,” Callihan continued, noting that they could have billed his insurance for the ride back.
Callihan said there was a truck sitting at the station not in service during that time. Loperfido, however, has explained that just because a truck isn’t out on a run doesn’t mean it is available. Their tax base requires then to be available for emergency 911 calls, he has noted, even if that means non-emergency transports have to wait.
Suttles didn’t directly address the specific situation Callihan noted, but said he did believe the ambulance board should be set up differently. He said he didn’t believe cities should have representatives on the board, because it could give some districts double representation. Instead, he said, representation should be chosen based on district only.
In other action, Loperfido told the board they have seen some minor problems with trucks over the past month, including a leaking replacement gas tank for one truck, linkage on another, and a radio repair and new tires on other vehicles.
While there were no major personnel issues over the past month, he said they were still attempting to increase their part-time roster with additional EMTs and paramedics to help reduce overtime costs.
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