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S.C. town residents look forward to additional ambulance

Complaints about long response times might come to and end for Chapin residents


Five Lexington County EMS vehicles at the Ball Park Road vehicle depot on Wednesday, January 17, 2024.

Joshua Boucher/TNS

By Bristow Marchant
The State

CHAPIN, S.C. — Residents in the Chapin area who have long complained about long wait times for ambulances might receive some help in the form of an additional ambulance paid for by the state.

A budget proposal from the Senate Finance Committee includes $365,000 for the purchase of a fully-equipped ambulance to serve the Chapin area, where residents in some neighborhoods have complained of long waits for medical assistance after calling emergency responders, sometimes lasting hours.

The issue has grown in recent years as the many peninsulas that snake down like long fingers into the waters of Lake Murray have bloomed with new housing developments — and residents who may one day need medical help.

That growth put a strain on Lexington County’s Emergency Medical Services at a time when ambulance services are also experiencing a shortage of qualified personnel, even in communities that aren’t facing the pressures of population growth that Lexington County does.

State Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry, said he’d heard stories about ambulance response waits from constituents in the Chapin area, where Cromer’s district includes most of the lake shore.

“I wanted to help them out, because that has been a concern in Timberlake, and I felt like if we could do something on the state level, maybe they would be receptive to that,” Cromer said.

The State spoke to several residents of the area around Timberlake Country Club, at the end of a peninsula adjacent to Dreher Island State Park and about 7.5 miles south of Chapin. They reported horror stories of lengthy waits for an ambulance in the midst of medical emergencies. One man blamed the later death of his mother on her hours-long wait to be picked up and taken to a hospital.

Jason Resnick, a former EMT who is now running for Lexington County Council for Chapin, is one of the founders of the Lexington County Ambulance Response Solutions group of residents who have advocated for more EMS attention for Chapin and more funding for EMS personnel in general. He said he worries an additional ambulance won’t be enough if Lexington County doesn’t have the first responders to fill it.

“I thank the senator for putting that in there, and being a man of his word in doing so, but unfortunately, the state can give us 100 ambulances, and if don’t have qualified people to staff them, it’s really not doing us much good,” Resnick said.

Councilwoman Charli Wessinger, who represents Chapin, has told Cromer that $365,000 would not be enough to purchase, equip and staff an ambulance. “An ambulance costs about $800,000, and to staff it and equip it is close to $1 million,” she said.

If the line item is ultimately approved by the Legislature, Wessinger said the county might put it toward a non-ambulance emergency response vehicle instead, which would cost closer to $415,000 to equip and staff, she said.

“We’re not going to turn down any money the state gives us,” Wessinger said. “Any money Sen. Cromer could get us would be greatly appreciated.”

Lexington County previously told The State that EMS operates a fleet of 29 ambulances to cover the whole county, with an additional ambulance already on order. One of those ambulances is stationed in Chapin for the highest acuity calls, EMS Chief Brian Hood told The State earlier this year, and another is usually stationed in Ballentine under the county’s dynamic deployment system.

The average response time to the Chapin area in the last quarter of 2023 was seven to eight minutes for the most serious response cases, according to Lexington County EMS, and for less acute calls the average response was 11 to 12 minutes. That’s slightly higher than the countywide seven-minute average for the most life-threatening calls, and the 10-minute average for less serious calls.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends a response time of eight minutes for the highest-need calls on 90% of emergency calls.

Cromer said he’s been in touch with Lexington County Manager Lynn Sturkie about whether and how the county will be able to use the ambulance. The senator said he hopes the extra response vehicle will not only improve response times for residents in his district, but relieve some of the pressure EMS staff has to work under now.

The Senate still has a few more weeks to work out its appropriations for the 2024-25 fiscal year and then reconcile its spending priorities with the state House of Representatives. By law, the S.C. Legislature will end its current session on May 9, but lawmakers could be recalled after that date for what’s known as a sine die session to complete the budget or any other outstanding business. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Resnick says Lexington County’s EMS services still need to be beefed up, and he hopes the state will continue to take a role in ensuring its responsiveness.

“Lexington County needs to step up recruiting and retaining of employees so ambulances aren’t sitting around unmanned,” he said.

In February, the county had 20 open positions in EMS, 17 of which would respond directly to calls for service from the public.

©2024 The State.
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