EMS services concern for Florala

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Florala residents concerned over emergency medical services in their area voiced their fears Monday at the city council’s regular meeting, and Mayor Robert Williamson said officials are listening.

“We are aware that ambulance service is a concern, especially with the recent closure of our hospital,” Williamson said.

The major concern among residents is that, not only has the city’s hospital closed its doors, but now the one ambulance used in town must take patients to hospitals in Opp or Andalusia, leaving no emergency medical services available in Florala.

Susan Byrd told The Star-News a close friend recently encountered the problem when a family member suddenly fainted. Byrd said her friend was told by 911 operators that the closest ambulance was 30 miles away, because the one Florala EMS unit was en route to Andalusia Regional Hospital at the time of the call.

During Monday’s meeting, residents questioned why Florala EMS, the city’s only local medical response service, has only one unit.

“I don’t think we have the calls to support having two ambulances,” Williamson said.

Florala EMS manager and board member James York said a drop in the number of “runs” Florala EMS makes a month is, in fact, the biggest reason only one crew is currently on duty at any given time.

“We used to make 75-to-100 runs a month,” York said. “Now we may make 25-to-30 runs.”

York said the drop in calls may not be great for his business, but is a sign that fewer accidents, such as those caused by speeding vehicles, are occurring in Florala.

“There are two reasons for it,” York said. “And, I support them both. The nursing home is one. We have a nursing home now, and I’m all for that. The other is that Florala is known as a speed trap. We’re not out there picking people up out of ditches at 2 a.m. anymore.”

Other officials, including local firefighter and trained paramedic Jarred Martin, said additional arrangements are being pursued in order to pick up the slack left when Florala EMS’ only ambulance must leave the area.

“It can be frustrating, because as a trained paramedic, there are things I am able to do, but I can’t perform as a firefighter,” Martin said. “But we are working on a system where we can call and a helicopter can be sent from Crestview (Fla.). The flight time for them is 15 minutes.”

In response to questions from the public, Williamson said city-owned ambulance services do exist, but would be an approximate $400,000 investment that could ultimately prove dangerous.

“What we don’t want to do is to get something like that, not be able to sustain it, and it drive Florala EMS out of town too, and then we have nothing,” he said.

York said, as a 501c3, non-profit organization, Florala EMS does receive around $20,000 per year in ad valorem tax money. The rest of the EMS’ profits, he said, come from Medicare, Medicaid and insurance.

“The city could help, but they simply don’t have it to give,” York said. “But we are working to, not establish, but re-establish a standby crew with a backup ambulance for when our first crew is on a run out of town. We are working on that for better days to come.”

In the meantime, York addressed the current agreement Florala EMS holds with Opportunity EMS in Opp and Advance EMS in Andalusia.

“We work together with Opportunity and Advance to back each other up,” he said. “And I know they can be as far as thirty minutes away at times.”

York said suggestions that Florala EMS reach across the Florida state line to team up with nearby Paxton has been looked into, but ultimately rejected because it violates Alabama law.

“We’ve talked to Paxton about that, but the state of Alabama won’t let us,” York said. “Alabama is backward and antiquated when it comes to that.”

Residents at Monday’s meeting said if public fundraising was an option for generating funds for another ambulance crew, they believed locals would respond positively.

York called raising the money a current “project” Florala EMS has slated for, “not the long-term future, but the future.”