Ala. hospital ambulance service to appeal response-time penalties
Decatur Morgan Hospital Ambulance Service faces fines for failing to meet response-time requirements in the fourth quarter of 2022
By Bayne Hughes
The Decatur Daily, Ala.
DECATUR, Ala. — The Decatur Morgan Hospital Ambulance Service says a staffing shortage contributed to its failure to meet response-time requirements in the fourth quarter of 2022 and it has challenged penalties proposed last week by the city EMS coordinator.
Emergency Medical Services Coordinator Chris Phillips last week recommended imposing a $5,000 fine and five points on the ambulance service for violating the city's response-time requirements in the police jurisdiction during the final three months of last calendar year.
But the ambulance service had already appealed the proposed penalty before the EMS coordinator made the recommendation to the Ambulance Regulatory Board at Tuesday's monthly meeting.
Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander said the ambulance service filed the appeal Monday. He said the filing was too late to get on Tuesday's agenda, so the ARB scheduled a hearing on the proposed penalties for its April meeting.
The board could uphold the appeal or forward a recommendation to the Decatur City Council.
A city ordinance requires the ambulance service to respond to at least 90% of its calls in the police jurisdiction within 13 minutes.
Phillips said the hospital responded within 13 minutes to 85% of the calls in the PJ during the October-December time period. He said the ambulance service had 87 calls, with its responses to 18 not meeting the time requirement. Five of the delayed responses were not counted against the hospital.
"Essentially, they missed their fractal response times by four calls," Phillips said.
The ordinance provides a procedure through which an ambulance service can seek to exempt individual calls "for good cause only." When an exemption is granted, that call does not count against the ambulance service's quarterly total.
"One (call) was taken off because (Decatur Police Department) was on the scene and requested non-emergency response," Phillips said. "Two were considered unsafe scenes in which the ambulance staged nearby. Two exemption forms were turned in for Dec. 27 when we had icy roads."
Phillips said the fine should be applied "by ordinance," and he also recommends the five-point penalty. If an ambulance service reaches 26 points, it could lose its license to operate in the city. The ordinance provides for penalties if an ambulance service does not meet the city's response-time requirements, for failing to keep enough well-maintained ambulances in service and for other infractions.
Alexander said the hospital service did not list a reason for its appeal in the notice to the city.
Tyler Stinson, the hospital's ambulance service director, said the basis of his appeal is his ambulance service "is having the same hiring issues that ambulance services across the nation are having."
Stinson said the ambulance service's employment issues are improving, as demonstrated by the fact that it responded to 100% of its calls within the required time in January and February.
"They made their response time the last two months so maybe they're figuring it out," said Fire Chief Tracy Thornton, who is also ARB chairman.
Thornton said he wants to look closely at Decatur Morgan's response times and locations within the police jurisdiction. While the PJ is a 1 1/2 -mile area outside of the city limits, some of these areas are difficult to reach within the required time, he said.
In January, Decatur Morgan responded to 322 in-city calls and reached the scene within the city's nine-minute response time requirement on 300 of those calls, a 93% compliance rate that merits no penalties under the ordinance if maintained for the quarter.
The ambulance service met met the 13-minute response time on 100% of its 20 calls in the police jurisdiction in January.
Stinson said his service had 281 calls in the city in February. It reached the scene within the city's nine-minute response-time requirement 254 times.
He said three calls were not counted because police were on the scene and the ambulance had to stage nearby. One didn't count because it was a non-emergency call by PD.
After removing the exempted calls, the ambulance service met the response-time requirement on 92% of calls in the city limits for February.
Decatur Morgan responded to 25 calls in the PJ in February and all were within the required 13 minutes, Stinson said.
Since First Response Ambulance Service discontinued service for Decatur last March, Decatur Morgan Hospital Ambulance Service is the city's sole ambulance provider.
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