Ambulance Dispatch Plans Warrant Greater Scrutiny
All emergency responders and medical personnel know “the golden hour.” It is the period of time — not always 60 minutes — after a traumatic injury in which delivered care is most likely to prevent death.
Countless medical studies over the years have found that a person’s survivability from a heart attack, stroke, gunshot or some other sudden injury goes up substantially if they receive care within a short period of time after the event.
Ask Seven Lakes resident Max Foley about how important that time is. Last month, his wife woke him before 7 a.m. with an irregular heartbeat and blood pressure. They knew something was wrong, so he called 911.
And waited. And waited.
Finally, a volunteer emergency medical technician from West End pulled down his street driving a pickup with several side compartments. He sized up the situation, helped stabilize Mrs. Foley, and then he, along with the couple, waited for the ambulance to come to the Seven Lakes house — from Pinehurst. It was the closest unit available.
Ninety minutes after that call to 911, the Foleys arrived at FirstHealth Moore Regional.
“In a heart situation,” Foley said, “that’s too long.”
What Foley and other Seven Lakes residents have discovered is the impact of a decision made a few months ago by Moore County emergency officials.
In April, officials realigned emergency response districts to improve efficiency. Half of the Seven Lakes area — Seven Lakes West — now falls in the West End service district. The rest falls in the Seven Lakes district, which houses a basic life-support ambulance and certified EMTs familiar with serving the entire area.
Before the change, dispatchers sent crews from both stations. After the change, a medical call to Seven Lakes West was routed to West End, rather than the nearer Seven Lakes unit.
Here’s the problem. If that West End ambulance is out on another call, as it was when the Foleys called that day in July, the next nearest vehicle, by protocol, is Pinehurst. Factor in N.C. 211 road construction and traffic getting from Pinehurst to Seven Lakes and you see the problem.
As community residents began learning about this change and seeing the longer response times, they started flooding the email inboxes of the Moore County commissioners.
The matter led off last Tuesday night’s meeting, and took up the first hour. A number of Seven Lakes residents turned up to protest the change, saying it wasn’t well communicated nor well thought out.
For Moore County Emergency Manager Scot Brooks, the change makes sense in a county where services are already stretched thin. He told commissioners that sending multiple units on a single call is not only expensive and inefficient, but it takes service away from the next call that might come in.
Be that as it may, we laud Brooks and the commissioners who listened to the Seven Lakes concerns and acted immediately. As of Wednesday morning, emergency officials went back to the dual dispatch of the West End and Seven Lakes stations for medical calls until they could study the matter further.
This matter is not limited to Moore County’s western communities. Whether you live in Southern Pines, Robbins, Cameron or Seven Lakes, emergency response times are critical.
The county’s emergency officials are to be praised for the level of service that they currently bring every day to their jobs. We understand that efficiency and effectiveness are key goals to developing protocols for dispatching ambulances, but we also believe it takes a healthy dose of local input from communities to preserve the golden hour for everyone.
As emergency management officials begin discussing ways to improve coverage, they should open up the process to residents. The best way to improve customer service is by listening to the customer.
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