By Stan Welch – A disputed, though fully approved, clause in the latest contract between the County’s various rescue squads and EMS units and the County has received DHEC support. The clause prohibits a given squad or EMS provider from answering “personal emergency calls” in other service areas. A fine of $450 to the offending agency is one remedy available, according to Scott Stoller, director of Anderson County EMS & Special Operations Division.
“Our purpose is to comply with the protocol for emergency response and send the nearest unit. We understand that sometimes family members and friends of squad members think of calling them first, but that can cause issues. For example, if someone from the Iva service area calls a Honea Path unit because they know someone on that squad, it deprives the people in that service area of their truck while it’s transporting someone from Iva”, said Stoller.
The Pelzer Rescue Squad, which covers both the Pelzer and Powdersville areas, actually runs three ambulances, instead of the two they are contractually required to have available. They are currently manning three stations; the main one in Pelzer, their secondary location on Highway 8 in the White Plains area and another on Piedmont Road near Powdersville.
Dan Durham, head of the Pelzer squad’s board of directors, challenges both the clause and the way he claims it was inserted into the contract. “Our board never saw a draft copy of this contract. When our Chief went to the County offices to pick up the monthly check for our operations, he was presented with the contract for signature. In the past, we have always had an opportunity for the board to review the contract.”
We had been assured there were no substantial changes to the contract, but I call a $450 fine pretty substantial,” said Durham.
Durham said that he filed a complaint with SCDHEC which sets the state standards for EMS service. In an e-mail response to that complaint, made available to The Journal by Stoller, Henry Lewis, of SCDHEC, states that the contract’s language reflects a “dispatch model to ensure the closest unit is responding” and goes on to say “The Department believes in the integrity of a 911 system and does not condone circumvention of the 911 system”. He also declared the matter closed.
Stoller said that the 2005 contract expired in 2010 and significant renegotiation took place. “For some reason, the full Council never took that up and we ended up with two one year extensions of the existing contract. We had hammered out the majority of the contract in 2010 but various changes were made in the intervening years. Some were necessary to comply with changes in regulations. For example, all units are now required to have a defibrillator on board. That was added to the contract.”
Stoller acknowledged that the County’s contact with the squads is mainly through the chiefs of those squads, and not the boards of directors.
“We were under some pressure to get these contracts signed because we didn’t have another extension in place, and Council had approved the contracts,” Stoller said. “Some Chiefs asked for time to review them, and some just signed them on the spot.”
Stoller says the consideration of the new contract by the EMS Commission and its approval by the Council were both well advertised and that anyone who was interested had ample opportunity to learn what the contract said. That same contract also provides each squad or unit with an additional $2500 this year for operating costs. The Pelzer squad received an additional $5000 because they are covering two service areas.
The restriction applies only to emergency calls, which should be made through central dispatch and the 911 system. Non –emergency or convalescent transports, such as to and from dialysis or other medical procedures is entirely up to the patient, regardless of the service area involved. “That is and should absolutely be free enterprise,” said Stoller. “We are simply trying to insure the fastest response we can in emergency situations.
According to Stoller, the original friction over the clause began when a Pelzer Squad member expressed concern about responding to a call from a family member, a condition Stoller says would almost certainly not be considered call jumping.
“I can hardly imagine that a family member or even a friend in such a situation, who properly informed central dispatch and asked to take their ambulance off the grid to make such a call would be fined. This isn’t an automatic response. There are provisions for the squad to justify their decision and an investigation would be made before any action was taken. The totality of the situation would be looked at.”
Durham pointed out that the agency receiving the direct call is required to decline the call and contact 911. They are also required to stay in direct contact with the caller until 911 contacts that person. “How are they going to do that if we have their phone tied up?”
Durham’s response to the suggestion that full enforcement of the clause is unlikely was, “Then take it out of the contract.” He also said that the squad had signed the contract and would comply with it fully. “We will continue to provide professional emergency medical services to the citizens in our service areas.”