Mon County Commission discusses new county-wide EMS protocol

W. Va. —The initial phase of a new county-wide protocol pertaining to how EMS units are dispatched was laid out Wednesday afternoon as the Monongalia County Commission hosted a press conference with representatives from the four ambulance services operating in the county.

There were two major takeaways from the session: First, the county has been divided into five zones as it pertains to EMS service; second, the push is on to get all ambulances operating in the county outfitted with global positioning system (GPS) locators by July 1 or soon thereafter.

In keeping with the existing agreement governing EMS service — which runs through June 2019 — Mon Health EMS will continue to be the primary provider.

The difference, Mon Health EMS Director Dave Custer explained, is that Mon Health EMS vehicles have been roaming each zone around the clock for the last two weeks. When and if a second ambulance is needed in a zone, Mon Health EMS will send it. Beyond that, the closest provider will be dispatched.

“Since we have done this … we have seen a reduction in response times, not only in the western end of the county, but throughout the whole county,” Custer said. “This plan right now that’s in place is working pretty effectively.”

Custer explained that the zones were outlined by the county’s emergency management agency, MECCA 911, based on its experience dispatching law enforcement based on a similar system.

The county agreement covering EMS service has been in place since 1982 and was last renewed in 2014. It stipulates that Mon EMS is the primary responder to any call in the county. If Mon EMS can’t respond, the call falls to Star City Volunteer Fire Department EMS, then Jan-Care.

Changes to the longstanding EMS setup were set in motion earlier this year when WVU Hospitals (WVUH) announced HealthTeam Critical Care Transport. Unlike the existing agencies, which largely dispatch vehicles from the Morgantown area, HealthTeam crews are stationed in four outlying areas, including Blacksville, Clinton District and Cheat Lake.

Shortly thereafter, the commission began hearing from residents, primarily from the Blacksville area, concerned that the existing EMS agreement  will leave them waiting on an ambulance coming from Morgantown while one sits just down the road.

WVUH Health-Team initially rejected joining the agreement as fourth in line, stating ambulances should be dispatched based on proximity to the call, not  agreements and priority lists.

Clinton Burley, representing WVUH Health-Team, said that while his organization is proud to support the changes announced Wednesday as they represent an improvement of service, there’s still road left to travel.

“It is our long-term goal, and we believe that it is the right thing to do, to continue to work this process to the point to which the closest paramedic unit responds to the patient in need, regardless of who’s name is on the side of the truck,” Burley said, explaining that Custer committed to presenting a draft plan within 60 days that starts moving the county in that direction.

“My personal belief is nothing else is acceptable. It’s the right thing to do,” Burley said, noting, “This is a great first step.”

The main component in implementing such a system is GPS. It was explained that Health-Team, Star City EMS and Jan-Care vehicles are outfitted with GPS locators. The agencies said they’re working with MECCA 911 to sync the units with the dispatch software.

Custer said Mon Health EMS is in the process of outfitting its vehicles.

John Hitchens, EMS administrator for Star City VFD, said that collectively, the four EMS agencies will put the citizens of Monongalia County first.

“Whatever we have to do to make that work is what we’re going to do,” he said.

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