Florala leaders seek solution for ambulance coverage

Published 12:59 am Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Concerns about the availability of emergency health services led the City of Florala recently to seek bids or proposals from businesses willing to provide ambulance services.

Those bids, which included the requirement of having a paramedic on duty at all times, were due Friday. The city got nothing.

“As of noon Friday, there were no bids,” Mayor Robert Williamson said.

In the interim, Opportunity EMS owner Haywood Nawlin asked to address the council. Opportunity had been keeping someone on duty in Florala and taking calls there, but Covington County E-911 recently suspended Opportunity EMS’s dispatch agreement for 60 days. In other words, if someone in Florala dials 911, Opportunity EMS will not be dispatched.

Nawlin on Monday said, “First of all, I’d like to ask the council, ‘What are y’all’s plans about ambulance service? There’s no need of me making plans if y’all are making plans and mess up my plans.”

Williamson said the city wants to provide the best safety it can afford.

“In light of the fact we have no hospital, we have a greater need to get a patient stabilized more quickly,” Williamson said.

Nawlin said the complaints about his company’s service were designed to put him out of business.

“Of course y’all all know about 911,” Nawlin said. “They got enough complaints from Pridemark (an ambulance service in Opp), Opp Fire Department and the Florala Fire Department they took me off 911 rotation. The only calls we get are on the telephone.

“My intention is to put (the number) in the paper, on the radio and everything else, and let everybody know they can call us on the phone,” Nawlin said. “If we can get enough to stay down here, we will.”

Regarding the complaints, Nawlin said, “They ain’t doing a thing in the world but getting together and putting us out of business.”

Mark Ryan, attorney for the E-911 board, said the suspension stemmed from an accident involving an off-duty officer on a motorcycle. Covington County Deputy Larry Smith died in the accident on Sept. 30. His wife was also a passenger.

Ryan said Opportunity EMS got a Code 3 call and responded with a basic life support unit to a wreck that required an advanced life support unit.

“They got to the scene and called for a paramedic, even though they (already) knew it was a code 3,” Ryan said. “That’s a black and white violation.”

On Tuesday, when asked how Florala is covered, Ryan said there is a “blurry line,” and it depends upon the location of the call. The calls are covered by “other agencies not under suspended status,” he said.

Other counties also are grappling with the issue of how to monitor agencies and make sure advanced life support service is available, Ryan said.

Meanwhile, Williamson defended the Florala Fire Department.

“ In regards to the complaint, I don’t believe our fire department is trying to put you out of business,” he said. “ If complaints were filed, they thought they were legitimate. Considering what their input would be as well. I don’t know about Pridemark, but I will not accept the purpose of Florala Fire is to put you out of business.”

State law governs what services emergency responders can provide based upon their certification levels. There are some emergency drugs EMTs are not allowed to administer that paramedics can.

Nawlin contends that he has provided services in Florala “ ever since Florala EMS went out. We’ve got backup from Opp when we need it.”

Nawlin also argued that basic life support services are better than having no ambulance service.

But when pressed by Councilwoman Hazel Lee about the availability of paramedics, Nawlin said, “Not all the time.”

Williamson said there also have been complaints about Opportunity EMS’s response times.

The mayor said, “I’m not trying to suggest we don’t appreciate the services had, because we do. We are charged with doing the best we possibly can within our budget constraints.”

The mayor and council agreed to set up a committee to discuss the issue, and to include Nawlin in the discussion.