EMS workers, Kentucky Hospital Association speak out on House Bill 296

The proposed bill would make changes to the way EMS teams respond to calls, but EMS workers say the bill's changes are not going to fix the real problem.

SCOTT COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – Kentucky EMS workers are speaking out against a proposed bill in the state House which includes, among other things, a maximum response time to calls.

According to the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services’ Executive Director, the bill’s changes are not going to fix the real problem.

“We, like everyone else are having staffing issues,” said Kentucky Board of EMS Executive Director Mike Poynter.

Kentucky EMS workers say Kentucky House Bill 296 would be a setback. On the other side, the Kentucky Hospital Association says it would help with response times for critical patient transfers from one hospital to another.

“Unfortunately, a lot of these very sick patients are being delayed transport, anywhere on average, 7 to 8 hours, sometimes 12 hours, sometimes 14 hours, sometimes days. We’re talking heart attacks, strokes, burn victims…and our hospitals just can’t sit by any longer and not have their patients’ needs met. That’s why we’re supporting the bill,” said Kentucky Hospital Association President Nancy Galvagni.

The bill, introduced January 13th, would put the Emergency Medical Services Advisory Committee under the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, as well as establish a maximum response time of 60 minutes for every call, among other changes.

“We understand they’re not always going to be able to do that. Obviously, we’re not prioritizing a facility patient transfer over 911. That is not our intent, that is not what we are trying to do. What we’re merely trying to say is when a hospital calls a local ambulance for the transfer of one of these patients, the expectation should be that we can move that patient in 60 minutes, but if the ambulance is not available, we just want to make sure the hospital can call another ambulance to provide that service,” said Galvagni.

Galvagni says that hospitals in Kentucky are not currently allowed to call another ambulance service provider if the ambulances licensed in the service area are unavailable. Under House Bill 296, that would change.

“We just think those types of bureaucratic rules don’t work for the patient,” said Galvagni.

According to The Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services, last year, the organization reported that about 93 percent of response times for hospital transfers were within 60 minutes.

“Our primary responsibility is 911, the true emergencies, not to say that transfers aren’t, but they’re in a facility where there are medical professionals. I thought 93 percent was pretty good for the first sixty minutes,” said Poynter.

Georgetown-Scott County EMS says it receives anywhere from 25 to 35 calls per day, which include hospital transfer calls. However, the agency only has four trucks, instead of its usual five, to respond to those calls on most days due to staffing issues.

“It’s never happened that they’ve called for a transfer and we’re like, ‘well, we just won’t get that one this time,’ or ‘we’ll get that one when we can get it.’ If a call comes in, and we have a crew available, they go. Emergency or non-emergency transfer. If we’re busy, of course, we’ll let them know that there’s a delay. That’s not uncommon. The problem is staffing,” said Georgetown-Scott County EMS Director Chris Runyon.

The county’s EMS director says this problem is everywhere, and is the real issue EMS teams around Kentucky are facing.

“We typically run 5 ambulances a day in Scott County. With staffing levels as they are now, sometimes that’s four. With four trucks and as the fastest growing county in Kentucky, it’s hard to keep up with that call volume. So staffing issues have to be addressed,” said Runyon.

The Kentucky Hospital Association is in favor of the bill’s changes to put EMS services under the Cabinet for Health and Human Services, and both sides are willing to work together to reach a compromise.

The bill was introduced by Republican Ken Fleming of Louisville, and is still in committee a week after being introduced.

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