Okla. county convenes to discuss 911 call center communication issues

Problems with “zero status” and “non-communication” from Pafford Medical Services to 911 Central Dispatch were cited as issues with the ambulance company


By James Beaty
McAlester News-Capital, Okla.

PITTSBURG, Okla. — Problems with “zero status” and “non-communication” from Pafford Medical Services to 911 Central Dispatch were cited as issues with the ambulance company during a Pittsburg County Emergency Services Board meeting held Monday at the Pittsburg County Courthouse.

Shawn Smith, director of the 911 Call Center, said the matters have been an ongoing issue.

For the entire month of May, Pafford responded to 110 calls from the 911 call center, and failed to communicate a response to 29, for non-communication rate of 21%. (Photo/U.S. Air Force /Ingrid Barrentine)
For the entire month of May, Pafford responded to 110 calls from the 911 call center, and failed to communicate a response to 29, for non-communication rate of 21%. (Photo/U.S. Air Force /Ingrid Barrentine)

“They’re not acknowledging our calls,” Smith said of Pafford. “We have to ensure a unit is responding.”

Sometimes when the 911 Call Center does receive a response, it’s to inform the 911 center that no Pafford ambulance is available to respond at that time, Smith said.

“Sometimes they don’t have an ambulance available — it’s ‘status zero,’” said Smith.

When an emergency calls comes in, the 911 call center has to make sure an ambulance has been contacted and is responding to the emergency. Smith said there have been ongoing problems with Pafford Medical Services in receiving a communication as to whether the ambulance company is responding to the emergency call — or not.

The “status zero” sometimes issued by the company means that no ambulance is available to respond to an emergency. Usually when that occurs, there is an ambulance transport from the McAlester Regional Medical Center to hospitals in metropolitan areas such as Tulsa or Oklahoma City.

A “status zero” could also occur if all available ambulances were out at the same time responding to emergency calls

Two ambulance companies are currently operational in Pittsburg County.

Pafford has two ambulances stationed in McAlester and two assigned to Hartshorne, through a separate agreement with the Hartshorne City Council. Two ambulances are also placed in Eufaula. However, they are not counted as part of the coverage for Pittsburg County, he said.

The other is the city of McAlester’s ambulance service operated through the McAlester Fire Department.

After Smith spoke of the concerns, Pafford Medical Services Operations Manager Edward Fowler introduced himself. Fowler said he’s been working in the position for a couple of weeks and he is determined to find the source of the problems.

“I think we can resolve the issue of communications,” he said. Fowler said he cannot answer for what’s happened in the past, but he’s determined to try and resolve the issues going forward. His territory covers a wide area.

“McAlester is one piece of the pie,” Fowler said. “I know this will have to be a big piece.”

He said he knows he will have to work with the city and that there are also demands from the hospital for patient transports to other facilities. Fowler said the only way to get the issues resolved is by working together.

Pittsburg County Commission Chairman/District 2 Commissioner Kevin Smith said the county was promised more ambulances in the original agreement.

“There were going to eight,” he said. “We ended up with five.” Now, there are less than that, he noted.

Kevin Smith noted that the city of McAlester has its own ambulance service. That leaves the county primarily depending on Pafford — which only has the two ambulances to cover the entire county, since the ambulances assigned to Hartshorne are not considered county-assigned ambulances, according to information at the meeting.

Commissioner Smith noted the city of McAlester will respond to emergencies in the county, when needed — but then that could leave the city with fewer ambulances ready to cover its own area.

Fowler noted Pafford’s primary responsibilities.

“Our primary responsibility is not to the city. It’s not to the hospital,” Fowler said. “It’s the county.”

Fowler said it’s his intention to come in and analyze the issues, but he indicated he cannot resolve them by himself.

“It’s going to take a village,” he said, indicating he hopes the rest of the village is willing get on board to get the problems resolved.

Shawn Smith indicated the 911 Call Center is long past ready to get to the issues resolved, “We just want to provide service,” she said. “Communication is key for our dispatchers.”

Shawn Smith presented the commissioners with a report showing Pafford’s communications response to the 911 Center in May.

For the entire month of May, Pafford responded to 110 calls from the 911 call center, and failed to communicate a response to 29, for non-communication rate of 21%, Smith said.

From May 6 until May 12, Pafford responded 27 times to calls from the 911 Centre, with four non-responses, for a 13% non-communication rate, according to Smith.

Non-communication rates for the remainder of May, according to the Emergency Services Board report are:

  • May 13 to May 19 — “Yes” 30 and “no” 4, for a 12% non-communication rate.
  • May 19 to May 26 — “Yes” 21 and 12 no, for a 36% rate of non-communication.
  • May 22 to June 2 — “Yes” 32 and 9 “no”, for a 22% non-communication rate.

“Previously, 17% of the time, Pafford EMS did not communicate with Central Dispatch,” Smith said in her report. “Pafford is now communicating with Central Dispatch 79% of the time,” Smith said in the report. “Approximately 21% of the time, Pafford EMS is not communicating all radio traffic with Central Dispatch.”

Smith said communication is needed because “We have to ensure a unit is responding.”

Fowler, the Pafford Operations manager, said he has an extensive backgrounds in the emergency response field. His 33 years in emergency services ranges from 9 years as a Del City firefighter to 19 years working with the Emergency Medical Services Authority System in Oklahoma City.

What about Pafford’s viewpoint on the issues as compared to the county and the 911 call center?

“Somewhere in the middle is where it’s at,” he said.

Smith said after the meeting she is hoping Fowler can resolve the issues.

“I hope his coming will correct some of the problems, “ she said.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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©2019 the McAlester News-Capital (McAlester, Okla.)

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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