An effort to improve the delivery of emergency medical services to those in need in Erie and two neighboring counties is about to take a big step forward.
Officials in Erie, Crawford and Warren counties have signed a cross-jurisdictional cooperation agreement and will hire an EMS plan administrator to coordinate the EMS response in those counties and work with agencies that provide the service.
The counties came together as EMS agencies in each county sometimes respond to calls in their neighboring counties.
The administrator will be an employee of Erie County and will work out of the Erie County Public Safety Facility in Summit Township, but the position will be paid for by the three counties with their population-based shares, said Jessica Horan-Kunco, who chairs a county public safety subcommittee that studied emergency services in Erie County and developed ways to help provider agencies.
Horan-Kunco is also Executive Director of the Council of Erie Area Governments.
The partnership was created to address times when some EMS agencies are unavailable to respond to calls and to develop a system that improves and speeds up responses, officials said.
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Agencies that provide EMS services, including organizations such as EmergyCare and a number of volunteer fire departments, are required by their state license to be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But there are times when an agency cannot respond due to staffing issues, officials said.
An exception to the 24/7 requirement, according to Horan-Kunco, is if a service is part of a regional or countywide collaborative EMS response plan. If connected to a plan, an EMS agency can specify when it can and cannot be staffed, and which other agencies should be dispatched when an agency is down, she said.
An agency can lose its license by not responding to EMS calls. Minutes are wasted dispatching an unstaffed agency and then trying to find another agency to respond to an emergency call without notice of an agency’s availability, Horan-Kunco said.
Look for a solution
Erie County Executive Brenton Davis recalled a recent incident in the county in which a man suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow and his wife called 911. It took nearly 30 minutes to find, ship and get an EMS agency that was on duty at the residence, he says.
Davis said that while he believes everyone involved did everything they could to respond to the emergency call, “I view this as a failure of the county government.”
“We have to work on a solution,” he said.
Horan-Kunco said the collaborative response plan would identify when EMS agencies are available to respond to calls and which agencies would respond to calls.
In the event that an agency is unable to respond, the agency will notify the dispatch in advance and the nearest available staffed agency will be dispatched “so that we do not waste valuable time in wait for the designated vendor and then move on to the next one,” Erie County Public Safety Director John Grappy said.
The EMS plan administrator’s duties would include tracking dropped calls and meeting periodically with agencies to discuss what should be done to prevent dropped calls, she said.
“Things like planning, building relationships with neighboring departments, putting in place different corrective measures to help them maintain their license and bring them into compliance,” Horan-Kunco said in December.
“Emergency services are in crisis, but it’s no one’s fault, no one’s to blame for why this is,” Grappy said. “The Collaborative EMS Response Plan…is a step in the right direction to ensure the dispatch knows who is available at any time of the day or day of the week to respond to medical emergencies.”
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Davis said he supports collaborative efforts such as the EMS Intergovernmental Agreement, something he said he spearheaded even before taking office in January. The county government has a responsibility to develop partnerships to improve the delivery of essential services such as EMS, he said, “to better protect the community.”
“We’re not maximizing our resources, and it’s an effort to do that,” Davis said.
An evidence “
Crawford County Commissioner Eric Henry, owner of the Meadville Area Ambulance Service, said the partnership with Erie and Warren counties was a “no brainer” for his county because it didn’t the personnel needed to do the job on their own.
Grappy said a proposed change in dispatch protocols, which is designed to expedite response, aligns with the EMS response plan.
Under the current dispatch system, an EMS agency has three minutes to respond to a call and then is dispatched a second time. After another three minutes, if the original agency does not respond, another agency is sent.
Under the proposed change, if an agency does not respond to the call within three minutes, the next provider is dispatched at the same time as the primary agency is dispatched a second time, officials said.
Grappy said officials have not set an implementation date for the protocol change.