Trending Topics

Ala. hospital EMS fined $5K over response times

Decatur Morgan Hospital EMS received a fine and penalty for failing to meet response times


Photo/Decatur Morgan Hospital

By Bayne Hughes
The Decatur Daily

DECATUR, Ala. — Decatur Morgan Hospital EMS ambulance service failed to meet the city’s required response times in the police jurisdiction during the first quarter of the year and was fined $5,000 and received a five-point penalty on Tuesday.

The Ambulance Regulatory Board unanimously upheld the fine assessed by Chris Phillips, Decatur Fire & Rescue medical services coordinator, at its monthly meeting and approved the points penalty on his recommendation.

The ambulance service responded to 82% of its calls in the police jurisdiction within 13 minutes during the first three months of 2024, failing to meet the required 90%. The police jurisdiction is a 1 1/2-mile area outside the city limits where Decatur provides fire and police protection and enforces building codes.

During the same time frame, the ambulance service responded to 91% of in-city calls within nine minutes, meeting the 90% minimum.

Phillips told the board that they did some research and “found what we thought was the council’s intent” in 2021 to cut the financial and point penalties previously specified in the ambulance ordinance in half.

Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander said the council then made the lower penalties “a practice” in a subsequent assessment.

“We believed that’s what the council ordered,” Alexander said. “And I just assumed it was delayed in showing up on Municode (a website that includes the city’s ordinances). It still shows $10,000, and we’re going to have to fix that, but that’s my understanding of what the council intended.”

Alexander said they can check with the council to make sure this is what it wants and, even if that’s not right, the ARB has the power to decide to stay with the $5,000 and five points.

“I’ll find out what their intent was and, if it is, I’ll go ahead and change it (in the ordinance),” Alexander said.

Phillips said the last time the ambulance service failed to meet response time requirements was in the PJ for the fourth quarter of 2022. However, the council upheld the hospital ambulance service’s appeal of the penalties.

Decatur Morgan Hospital Ambulance Service faces fines for failing to meet response-time requirements in the fourth quarter of 2022

He said the newest penalty is the first in two years and the clock on the penalty window restarts every two years. A service would face a possible loss of its operating license if penalized as much as 26 points within the two-year window.

“I would assume that, if it should still be $10,000, then a correction can be made,” Phillips said. “Nothing in the ordinance spurs actions until it’s at 26 points. It’s almost a moot issue because this can apply for two years.”

Fire Chief and ARB chairman Tracy Thornton asked Tyler Stinson, the hospital’s ambulance service director if there was a reason the service didn’t make its time requirements.

Stinson said they started out at 74% in January, went up to 81% in February and finished at 92% in March, but they couldn’t climb out of the hole.

He said they made changes to where ambulances park while waiting for calls and hired more staff to improve response times.

The hospital requested time exemptions on 11 calls, including those created by several winter-weather delays, and Phillips granted 10.

However, Stinson admitted the ambulance service still didn’t make its response time requirements.

“Yes, we did miss our times for the quarter,” Stinson said. “We own that. We made the adjustments we feel like we needed to make, and we’ve been above the standards since March.”

Phillips said the ambulance service made a timely response on 100% of the 19 calls in the PJ in April and the 26 calls in May.

Police Chief Todd Pinion, when making the motion as an ARB member for the penalties to be imposed, said he appreciates that the hospital is trying to make improvements after missing its first-quarter times in the PJ.

Decatur Morgan Hospital has been the city’s sole ambulance provider since First Response Ambulance Service closed its Decatur operations in March 2022.

The City Council previously upheld two First Response appeals of penalties for violation of response time requirements.

The city levied 53 penalties totaling $15,900 in fines against First Response for not putting enough ambulances on the road in January, February and early March 2022. However, First Response then shut down its Decatur operations on March 14, 2022, and never paid the fines.

First Response and its owner David Childers then sued the city and Huntsville Hospital, parent-owner of the Decatur-Morgan Hospital, in federal court accusing the pair of conspiring to cripple his business.

On May 15, U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala, of the Northern District of Alabama, scheduled a status conference in the First Response case to take place on Dec. 2 . Haikala also ordered that “this case shall be ready for trial by March 2025 .”

(c)2024 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)
Visit The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.) at
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.