Rural/Metro admits Tenn. county's response time concerns are valid

Officials are working together to ensure ambulances are available, staffed and released from the hospital quickly


By Gerald Witt
Knoxville News-Sentinel

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Rural/Metro officials admit Knox County’s concerns on staffing and response times are valid, and the two sides are working together to help the ambulance provider with solutions.

Rural/Metro Community Relations Director Tom Milton told the News Sentinel this week about plans to work with county officials to address concerns raised in a July 1 letter from the county.

Long response times, staffing for shifts and calls for mutual aid were noted as concerns in the letter from Knox County Purchasing Director Hugh Holt, who also pointed out two instances in April when Rural/Metro had no ambulances free.

County officials and Rural/Metro staff have said those events, known as “level zero” situations, did not affect actual emergency response, as backup plans are in place to send ambulances in those times and first responders such as firefighters typically arrive before ambulances.

Even so, the letter and resulting public attention has brought scrutiny on Rural/Metro.

Milton said he and a local manager met Wednesday with Holt and Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan.

“We did understand what they’re saying,” Milton said, “and their concern that our levels have gotten too low.”

He said a 2014 increase in minimum training required by the state for emergency medical workers has stretched staffing levels thin. He said Rural/Metro officials have met with staff at Roane State and Cleveland State community colleges to try to make the two-semester classes more available.

Milton said he hopes Buchanan can help with another issue that contributes to ambulance availability — turnover of ambulances at hospital emergency rooms.

A hospital that’s short-staffed may hold an ambulance with a patient until someone is free to take that person in, according to Milton.

“They don’t release our units back,” he said, “(and) it stretches our system.”

Rural/Metro’s response to questions from county officials appeared to get a positive response, according to Milton, which he expects to continue today in a meeting with Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.

“Our respective staffs have had very productive discussions over the past week,” Burchett said in a statement, “and this is a good step toward continuing a conversation that will help ensure public safety.”

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©2015 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.)

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