MORGANTOWN — Mon Health EMS Executive Director Dave Custer said Mon Health EMS responded to more than 15,000 calls in 2017 with an average response time of 10.4 minutes.
He said those numbers represent 85 percent of the EMS calls in the county last year and fall within national response averages of eight to 14 minutes.
He went on to say that he’s proud of the service Mon Health System’s ambulances have provided the county over the last 40 years and has been committed to improving that service since taking the helm last February. He concedes that task took on additional urgency in recent months in light of neighboring WVU Hospitals (WVUH) entry in the EMS business with HealthTeam Critical Care Transport.
WVUH staffed vehicles in Cheat Lake, Clinton District and Blacksville in February — essentially encircling the Morgantown-based Mon Health EMS — and began pushing for changes to an existing agreement through the county commission that makes Mon Health EMS the county’s primary EMS provider. WVUH said ambulances should be dispatched based on proximity to the emergency, not an agreement.
Custer said that through vehicle placement and the numerous mutual aid agreements Mon Health EMS has in place with the county’s volunteer fire departments and neighboring county EMS services, calls are responded to as quickly as possible.
“Our reach out into the county has always been the same as what we’re doing now, we’re just enhancing it a little bit more since last fall,” Custer said. “We provide staging and roaming ambulances out in the county. We provide them in the Cheat Lake area, and we provide them in the Grafton Road area. It’s always been that way. We’re out there. We have a presence out there.”
Even so, he explained that Mon Health EMS is looking at additional staffing, has plans to open a two-vehicle garage in The Gateway and is outfitting its vehicles with GPS capabilities.
“When somebody comes and questions a lot of things, of course things move faster. When I came in … my main goal was to improve and grow Mon Health EMS, and we started doing that,” Custer said, explaining that about $9.5 million has been invested in the ambulance service by Mon Health System over the last 17 years.
When asked if losing priority status as the county’s EMS provider would have a dire financial impact on Mon Health System, he said that’s “hard to determine.”
In the meantime, he said Mon Health EMS is going to continue to do the job it signed on to do.
“We’ve been doing this a long time, for 40 years we’ve been doing this. We stepped up to this community 40 years ago and said, ‘We’ll take this over, and we’ll run it.’ And we have for
40 years, professionally, and we’re going to continue doing that,” Custer said, explaining that the agency has widespread community support and countless positive outcomes.
“That’s the way it’s been. It’s been very successful, but is it 100 percent, no. If someone says something is 100 percent, then they’re not telling you the truth. We do the best we can do, and with our affiliates who assist us, we feel it’s a good system for this area,” he said.
Of the 17,757 EMS calls in 2017, about 2,600 fell to one of the county’s secondary EMS providers — primarily Star City Volunteer Fire Department EMS — as mandated by the county agreement.
After first rejecting placement on the county call rotation behind Mon Health EMS, Star City VFD and Jan-Care, WVUH since said it will sign on. The existing agreement expires in June of 2019.
According to The Dominion Post archive, Mon EMS was started in 1976 by residents of Blacksville, where its first vehicle was located. Prior to that, ambulances in the county were staffed by volunteers.
WVUH pens letter to commission
WVU Hospitals (WVUH) says it will sign on to the county’s memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding ambulance service as an additional backup to Mon Health EMS despite previous comments to the contrary and the stated belief that the existing system exposes the county to “substantial litigation.”
In an April 23 letter to the Monongalia County Commission, WVUH President & CEO Albert Wright and Clinton Burley, president & CEO of HealthTeam Critical Care Transport, reiterated their belief that ambulances should be dispatched based on proximity to the emergency and not an agreement granting agencies priority status.
The letter states “WVUH and HealthTeam’s position is simple: The closest available ambulance should respond to a medical emergency regardless of who owns the ambulance, be it Mon EMS, Jan-Care Ambulance Service, Star City Emergency Medical Services, HealthTeam or any other qualified emergency ambulance service,” and later adds, “There is no other defensible position.”
An MOU regulating how ambulances are dispatched in the county has been in place since 1982. That MOU stipulates Mon Health EMS is the county’s primary EMS service. If Mon Health EMS cannot respond to a call, it goes out to a secondary provider in either Star City EMS or Jan-Care.
The MOU was most recently readopted in 2014 and will be up for consideration again in June 2019.
In February, WVUH announced the creation of HealthTeam Critical Care Transport with the goal of stationing the vehicles around the county in places like Cheat Lake, Clinton District and Blacksville.
Shortly thereafter, the county commission began hearing requests from residents asking that those HealthTeam crews be allowed to respond to emergencies in outlying areas instead of vehicles based in Morgantown.
WVUH asked that the HealthTeam be added to the MOU and allowed to respond when its vehicles were the closest to a given emergency. In response, Mon Health EMS said WVUH could join the MOU as an additional backup, essentially fourth in the call rotation.
WVUH initially said it was not interested in such an arrangement but has since amended that position while conceding the HealthTeam’s addition to the MOU will not change the situation in outlying parts of the county if its crews still cannot respond.
The letter also claims Mon Health EMS has not lived up to its end of the MOU by failing “to make emergency ambulance service available throughout all of Monongaila County” or “locate and staff emergency ambulance response units in various areas of Monongalia County to reduce response times to outlying areas of said County.”
According to the letter, this set up a situation in which one of four agencies is given first priority regardless of where an emergency or the responding vehicles are located, all but ensuring that some county residents will wait longer than others for care.
In various correspondence between WVUH, Mon Health EMS and the county commission, examples of emergency calls in which HealthTeam vehicles were staffed near an emergency call but unable to transport patients are described.
These include an automobile accident witnessed by a HealthTeam crew at which multiple ambulances were needed and a cardiac emergency during which a request by the Clinton District Volunteer Fire Department to have the HealthTeam squad respond was refused. The HealthTeam squad is stationed in the Clinton District fire station.
“Mon EMS and the County Commission also have failed to acknowledge the substantial liability to which they are exposing themselves by institutionalizing a 911 system that guarantees certain residents of Monongalia County will have to wait unreasonably long periods of time for emergency care,” the letter states.
The correspondence con-cludes by asking the commission to terminate the existing MOU for cause and institute a system based on the closest available ambulance or immediately provide Mon EMS with notice that the county doesn’t intend to renew the existing agreement and issue a request for proposals for a new 911 system based on proximity.
The correspondence referenced in this report was provided by WVUH.