Special Report: EMS Investigation Part I
Updated: Wednesday, February 5 2014, 07:03 PM EST
First responders say the 911 call that came in about 6 a.m. on October 4 should have been routine. The woman calling said the man was having difficulty breathing, but moments before paramedics arrived she lost a pulse for 67-year-old Alfred Lammonds.
Bostic firefighters at the scene logged the call as dead on arrival and according to 911 records, it took 10 minutes for an ambulance arrive at the home because the EMS station one mile up the road was empty.
"Someone's going to die in this county because they didn't have the proper coverage," says Rutherford County Rescue Chief Allen Emory.
The county says Medic 30, the ambulance that's stationed at the Bostic base, was driving a patient to a scheduled dialysis appointment that morning.
Rutherford County changed a policy in 2012, and began ordering its ambulances to start handling non-emergency calls - like dialysis appointments. And then last year there was another shift when county leaders demanded paramedics begin transporting patients in very low-level emergencies, often referred to by local first responders as "Bravo" calls. Both tasks had been largely handled by other ambulance agencies, and taking them on meant county ambulances picked hundreds of extra trips a month and earned around a million dollars in additional revenue last year.
The new policies also resulted in advanced-level paramedics spending hours driving low-level patients. Within weeks of the fatality in Bostic News 13 spoke with Kerry Giles, who heads Rutherford County EMS.
"No one has gone unserved since the increase has occurred," said Giles. "We manage every single call that we go on."
In that interview, we questioned the time high-level paramedics were spending on the non-emergency tasks. It was a concern that had apparently already been raised months ago.
"I personally have wrote the county managers and the county commissioners several letters and have gotten one response from one county commissioner," said Tommy Raye, the former chief of Volunteer Lifesaving.
"Anything we got on that score, I gave to the EMS people," said County Manager Carl Classen. "I said 'Review this, let me know if there's something that needs to change' - that's their responsibility and I counted on them to do it."
At that time, EMS heads told us that the department was managing fine under the new policies. The county had added four paramedics and two daytime trucks to handle the extra calls.
Classen says he had no idea ambulances meant to handle 911 calls were being used to shuttle patients to doctor's appointments at that time and the county has since changed procedure.
"We made it clear to our staff and we separated out those two functions - emergency medical transport and non-emergency medical transport, and those are handled by two different shifts now," said Classen last week.
But the non-emergency pre-scheduled calls were only part of the problem, according to other first responders. High-level county ambulances are still busier with the low level emergency transports that rescue squads had been helping to handle for more than 50 years - until now.
Rescue squad staff say they've repeatedly warned the county, saying the policy is putting patients at risk.
"The facts are, the county is willing to tie up valuable paramedic trucks on basic level calls needlessly," says Emory.