When seconds count — there is no room for politics when it comes to your health.
York County Council Wednesday spent hours listening to various stakeholders in the ever-present debate between county-wide EMS providers, healthcare professionals and 9-1-1 Center staff.
And after years of discussions, accusations, closed-door meetings and even a little head-banging, York County may now be the closest it’s ever been to brokering a deal between Piedmont Medical Center and area volunteer rescue squads that provide their own ambulance services.
The quality of care once it arrives is no longer in question — as any ambulance — Piedmont, rescue squad or otherwise — is required to have professionally trained EMTs. All are certified in BLS, or Basic Life Support, while others are certified ALS or Advanced Life Support.
The question therein lies in how long you’ll expect to wait for an ambulance to arrive after dialing 9-1-1.
York County Councilman Bruce Henderson, a former insurance broker, says that level of service should have no effect on any outside or socioeconomic factors.
“I don’t care who you are or what part of the county you live in…everyone should have access to emergency care,” Henderson said.
Wednesday’s draft form of a new countywide EMS agreement, Henderson said, includes setting a goal of responding to 90 percent of high-priority calls within ten minutes after a year in operation.
The agreement also includes the possible creation of an oversight board to remove the politics from emergency care.
“We’re circling the airport…and about to make a landing,” Henderson said. “Somewhere out there, we’ll be looked back on as to what we did this situation and it will truly define this council.”
Henderson said that board, if created, would likely include the major stakeholders in the EMS contract: Piedmont Medical Center, Lake Wylie/River Hills Rescue Squad and the Fort Mill Rescue Squad.
These discussions were sparked two years ago as county leaders and first responders sought to improve safety and reliability to the county’s EMS system. At the time, in areas where the rescue squads served, more than one ambulance would be dispatched to a particular scene.
County staff, Piedmont and rescue squads were once working together to eliminate the so-called ‘dual dispatch’ of ambulances, which not only tied up an unnecessary vehicle, but increased the opportunity for a traffic accident as well.
Those talks fell apart in 2012, when plans were floated assign different response times to different geographic areas.
Adding to the issue, volunteer rescue squads, which depend largely on financial contributions from the communities they were initially chartered to serve, were hesitant to respond to calls for service outside that area.
The new system, Henderson said, holds all parties’ “feet to the fire ” — something that was lacking in previous editions of the contract.
Under the latest version of the plan, all ambulances would be equipped with GPS tracking units to allow dispatchers to not only send the closest EMS unit to a call, but to also strategically place that unit across the county to meet that 10-minute benchmark.
Should the county, Piedmont EMS and the volunteer squads agree to the deal in the next few days, it could appear before York County Council as early as October.