SC EMS officials promise improvements, detail GPS upgrades after response time concerns

Medshore Ambulance officials explained how it's addressed problems that delayed response to a stroke call at a councilwoman's house


Dionne Gleaton
The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, S.C.

BAMBERG COUNTY, S.C. — Bamberg County Council members and ambulance service officials are discussing ways to improve the service, including the creation of a steering committee and making system upgrades.

Bamberg County Council's public safety committee met with Anderson-based Medshore Ambulance officials on March 23.

Bamberg County and Medshore Ambulance officials met to discuss how the ambulance service is addressing response time issues.
Bamberg County and Medshore Ambulance officials met to discuss how the ambulance service is addressing response time issues. (Photo/Bamberg County, SC)

The nonprofit Bamberg Rescue Squad Inc. handled EMS calls in the county until Oct. 1, 2019, when the county switched to Medshore.

'A heavy call volume'

Medshore's emergency response times were questioned during a March 1 Bamberg County Council meeting. Councilman Phil Myers, a volunteer fireman with the Bamberg Fire Department, and Councilwoman Sharon Hammond both shared their personal stories of concern.

"My biggest concern right now with the Medshore is the way we're dispatching. I don't think it's working. ... Also, on response times. I've seen times here that's been 30, 40 minutes before the truck shows up on scene. That's a real concern," Myers said.

Medshore General Manager Josh Shore was joined at the March 23 meeting with Jason Cooke, vice president over statewide operations, and Medshore Ambulance Services Capt. Phil Clarke, who serves as operations manager for Bamberg and Barnwell counties.

Clarke addressed the response time issues, noting that he regretted the delay in response to Hammond's Bridge Street home in Bamberg, where her mother had suffered a stroke.

He said work was being done to address dead zones and other limitations that sometimes hindered emergency communications.

"It had to do with the way the information was loaded into the GPS system. We found out that under the Apple GPS system, it still listed Bridge Street as new Bridge, and that caused some of the confusion," Clarke said.

He said attempts have been made to rectify the problem, which he said has been caused in part by sketchy internet service in both Bamberg and Barnwell counties.

"So we updated all of the units with ... Sierra Wireless. And right after that incident on Bridge Street, the dispatch center now has the capability of being aware of where our units are located. Not only the units in Bamberg, but also the units in Barnwell.

"We also ask the dispatchers that from now on to tell the crew what town that they're going to just to make sure that there is no misunderstanding, that if it's Bridge Street, it's Bridge Street in Bamberg, or if it's Church Street, it's Church Street in wherever the case may be so that there's no confusion," Clarke said.

He added, "We've also placed a list of all the landing zones in each of the units both in Barnwell and Bamberg. We've made sure that there are map books in all of our trucks for both counties so that in the event they need to reference that, they have that."

Medshore operates two 24-hour trucks in the county, but Myers said a third one is needed.

"We're seeing a heavy call volume on the first responders going up. From 2017 to 2020, we've seen right at a 30 percent increase in calls. We're seeing a lot of extended ETAs (estimated time of arrival) on ambulances. I've got records just on the city of Bamberg I'd be glad to share with you," Myers said.

He added, "I know down in the lower part of the county, down around Ehrhardt and Little Swamp community, they've seen extended times because there's not a truck even close to them. The truck in Denmark and a truck in Bamberg ... that's a long distance. Time is critical."

Shore said the pandemic has forced some delays, including the time it takes to disinfect trucks between patients.

"And something that's out of our control is once we take the patient to the hospital, if it's Aiken or somewhere else, they have delays getting our folks back in service to get to the county," he said.

Clarke said the majority of Medshore's patient transports are from the Bamberg-Barnwell Emergency Medical Center to the Regional Medical Center. Medshore is working with RMC on a contract to potentially bring on a third truck.

"The majority of them are going to the Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg. So far this year, we've already done seven transfers, and the only reason that we're doing those transfers is because the patients are having to wait an unnecessary amount of time, and they need to get to more definitive care than what the free-standing can provide.

"That's one of the reasons why we've reached out to the Regional Medical Center about us taking on that contract just for BBEMC to bring on the additional unit to help them as well as to help us in providing additional coverage in the county," Clarke said.

Shore said, "I think if we're successful about the hospital, if we're able to capture that volume and justify putting those unit hours on the road, that's going to be a win-win for your community and us to make sure that we have adequate coverage in the community in Bamberg (County)."

He added, "Once we get some things worked out with them (RMC), then we'll be able to move forward. We just recently got some information from them as far as the number of transfers out. I just got information as far as time of day so that we can make sure that that unit is utilized to its full capacity."

'You've got to make an investment'

Myers also addressed what he considered the nonchalant attitude displayed by Medshore emergency medical technicians at the scene of some calls, including one where he and another first responder had just gotten finished helping someone who fell from a chair.

"Two EMTs come pulling up as soon as we were walking out of her house. ... They show us and say, 'It's a long way down those steps. We don't want to fall and break a hip coming out of the Hooten Black House.' Kind of a poor excuse to me," he said.

Shore said, "When you have a problem like this, or if you see something, pick up the phone and definitely let us know, let Phil know. We'll share our contact info with you. ... That's not how we promote our behavior with our team and our crews."

Clarke said there had also been concerns about how firefighters had been treating EMTs, something he was seeking a meeting with Bamberg Mayor Nancy Foster and Bamberg County Fire Services Coordinator Paul Eubanks about.

"I have employees that are part-time that don't want to come to work in Bamberg because of comments that have been made by firefighters to them, just derogatory remarks. I think the biggest thing is that we just need a better communication between all parties so that we don't wind up with a lot of complaints all at once.

"If we know about them, then we'll look into them and get an answer. If we made a mistake, we'll own up to that ... and we're going to take corrective action," Clarke said.

Shore suggested a steering committee made up of individuals in the public safety community be developed to "identify issues or projects and facilitate and work on some challenges in the community."

"It really benefited us having that dialogue in Barnwell County. It involved the dispatch center, the emergency management, fire departments, all your government officials are involved in it," Shore said.

"That would help tremendously," Myers said.

Shore added, "We're not perfect, nobody's perfect. We want to be proactive in making sure we mitigate problems in the path forward."

EMT academies

Shore said Medshore is in the planning stages of working with Denmark Technical College to developing an EMT academy to produce more EMTs.

"We've proven that there is a staffing shortage not just in Bamberg County and Barnwell County, it's across the United States. ... What we've done with Medshore is come up with EMT academies. We're hiring folks that not only have EMS on their mind, but bringing them in, paying them and letting them go through EMT training. So we're fostering those relationships. ... It's grant-funded. So it's a win-win for the community and getting people in the industry to really feed the system," Shore said.

Shore said he would also be working to make information technology improvements to ensure that, for example, wrong addresses would not be popping up on GPS systems during emergency calls.

Hammond said, "You've got to make an investment in our county."

Shore said, "I definitely made a note. We're going to follow up with our IT department here within MedShore to make sure our CAD (computer-aided dispatch) system and our ZOLL (data management software) system has an up-to-date mapping system that reflects current streets and everything, addressing with the county, and then facilitate follow up with ( County Emergency Services Director) Tiffany (Kemmerlin) to make sure everything is on the same sheet of music."

He added, "This is the top priority for us, to fix this technology piece, for sure. ... There are different tools out there to maybe link our CAD system with your CAD system. That's an investment we would like to see to tie in, to make sure there's consistency and a different layer of just backup on our part."

Medshore operates under an annual contract. County Administrator Joey Preston has said the contract could be ended with appropriate notice.

County Controller Gina Smith in an email said, "We pay them $37,500 per month, which is the same amount that we paid to the previous provider."

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is 6 p.m. Monday, April 5.

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(c)2021 The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, S.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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