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Ind. EMS agencies dispute dispatch process for new ambulance

The existing countywide provider, Trans-Care, threatens suit over silent dispatching for Medic 51 ambulance responses

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — A review of the county’s ambulance dispatching system is under way as part of a dispute between Trans-Care and Medic 51, a unit operated by the Riley Fire Department and stationed at a Honey Creek Township firehouse on Springhill Road.

The dispute began in January shortly after Medic 51 began responding to emergency medical calls in Riley, Honey Creek and Sugar Creek townships.

Trans-Care, which has a six-year contract to provide ambulance service in the county through 2018, contends it can respond to all emergency calls, even in Riley, Honey Creek and Sugar Creek townships.

But those townships have formed a single fire-protection district, which funds Medic 51. Under state law, the townships and township fire departments declared they would provide ambulance service. The departments stated Trans-Care would serve as a backup when needed.

Trans-Care contends that because of its contract with the county, it should be the primary responding ambulance throughout the county, and Medic 51 would be used only when a Trans-Care unit cannot respond or needs assistance.

In late January, Trans-Care filed a tort claim, which is a notice required to be sent to a governmental agency of potential pending litigation. The potential litigation would seek damages citing the fire and township officials “intentionally and unjustifiably interfered with, and continue to interfere with Trans-Care’s business relationship and contractual rights with Vigo County, Indiana, and the Vigo County Commissioners.”

The tort claim includes the Sugar Creek, Riley and Honey Creek fire departments and township officials, along with Vigo County Dispatch-E911, Vigo County Emergency Management, Vigo County E911 Advisory Board and the Indiana Political Subdivision Risk Management Commission.

The claim contends those parties “conspired with one another in the creation of the Riley/Honey Creek/Sugar Creek Ambulance Service so as to ‘cherry pick’ the emergency ambulance runs from the three most populous townships covered under the geographical area of the agreement. ...”

Jeff Fox, fire chief of the Riley Fire Department, declined comment because the tort claim could involve litigation.

The tort claim also contends that the Vigo County dispatch, through its director, is allowing the use of “silent dispatch,” using telephones instead of radios, to prevent the dispatch of Trans-Care ambulances to first calls in the three townships.

During a meeting of the Vigo County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Commissioner President Judith Anderson said she received a letter Monday, dated March 18, from Faril A. Ward, chief compliance officer for Trans-Care. Ward, in the letter, contends the use of a “silent” system “is unethical on its face, violates central dispatch’s own longstanding policy guideline for handling EMS calls and in its practice — favoring some and discriminating against others all to the detriment of the citizen/patient.”

E911 Director Rob McMullen, contacted Tuesday after the commissioners’ meeting, said that since he has headed the central dispatch system starting in 2011, any such policies for EMS calls have changed with the introduction of new technology. McMullen said the dispatch center uses a computer which sends out a text for an ambulance to go to an emergency call. Medic 51 then uses the radio to confirm they are responding.

The system is also being used by the Terre Haute Fire Department, McMullen said. “We did this because Trans-Care was running hot for calls that they were not dispatched for in the new area that Riley was responding to. We still have one PSAP (public-safety answering point) and dispatch. The only difference is not over the radio. It is dispatching, just in a different way for the safety of the citizens,” McMullen said.

Ward, in his letter, cited two incidents this month in which dispatch used telephones, instead of radios. One resulted in both Trans-Care and Medic 51 responding to the same call.

“Central Dispatch should be a neutral, professional service providing for the needs of the emergency medical services to all of Vigo County’s citizens, instead, it has abrogated that responsibility to join a cheering section for a click [sic] of individuals who support Riley Ambulance, regardless of its lack of capability to respond to any but the most rudimentary incidents and in violation of a county agreement entered in good faith,” Ward stated in the letter.

“At this point, Trans-Care — whose contract the commissioners and the county have obviously breached — is being forced to back up a corrupt central dispatch system and a totally inadequate and insufficient Riley Ambulance service,” Ward stated in the letter.

At the commissioners’ meeting, Commissioner Anderson stated she is “just sick of it. Whatever we need to do, we need to resolve this. We are going to cause a big problem one of these days, and the county will be liable in some way I am sure,” she said.

“I think we need to have a meeting with Rob McMullen. He is the 911 director, which means dispatch. I don’t care who it goes to, let them battle it out out there and then they will get in trouble, not us,” Anderson said. “They are making a dangerous issue out of this whole thing between Riley and Trans-Care.”

McMullen said he met briefly with commissioners after that meeting on Tuesday.

“There is an issue between Riley and Trans-Care and it does need to be worked out,” McMullen said. “We went over the letter from Mr. Ward. We are reviewing how we are dispatching the medical emergencies. We are trying to do what is the best way and what is best to rectify the situation. We are reviewing what needs to happen, and we will explore all options.”

©2015 The Tribune-Star (Terre Haute, Ind.)

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