County preps for EMS fight: Officials want townships to ditch outside agreements, provide county EMS
“It’s time to fight the battle.”
That was the message Morgan County Central Dispatch Director Scott Hamilton told the Morgan County Board of Commissioners during a discussion on ambulance service at its meeting Tuesday morning.
Hamilton’s comment was in response to county Emergency Medical Services Director Donnie Warren’s request for the commissioners to require the use of the county’s ambulance service in all areas of the county, with the exception of Brown and Madison townships.
Warren said there are residents who are paying the county tax for county ambulance service but not receiving it because of private agreements that have been made between some officials.
History of coverage
For many years, ambulance service was provided by several local fire departments. Those departments included Adams and Ashland (A&A), Paragon, Gregg and Morgantown. While those ambulances made many runs, most of the time, the ambulances were staffed by volunteers. There were times the response was delayed, and a few times, no one was available to respond. The city of Martinsville entered into contracts for 911 ambulance coverage with private companies. In time, citing a lack of income, those private companies pulled out.
The Brown and Madison township fire departments formed their own tax-supported ambulance services.
In addition to covering its own township, Brown Township ambulances covered Monroe and Clay townships and responded by request to other areas of the county. Madison Township’s ambulance also responded to areas outside the township when called.
When the county made the decision to form its own tax-supported ambulance service, both Brown and Madison townships elected not to be included in the county’s plan, and residents of both townships were not included in the county’s tax plan for ambulance service.
When proposed, there was some resistance to the county’s ambulance plan. In the end, the county purchased ambulances from Morgantown, Paragon and Gregg Township. Paragon and Gregg had two ambulances apiece, and each has kept a remaining ambulance for emergency use.
A&A has kept its ambulance in service and still responds for emergencies.
When the county service became operational on Sept. 11, 2017, two other townships declined to be a part of the service.
According to Warren, the Clay Township trustee entered into an agreement with Brown Township for ambulance coverage. The county dispatch center was instructed to call Brown Township for medical problems in Clay Township.
Warren said the Harrison Township fire chief entered into an agreement with the White River Township Fire Department in Johnson County for ambulance service.
Officials said an A&A Township Fire Department EMS worker has been disregarding the county’s ambulance, opting instead for an ambulance from a neighboring county to respond to medical emergencies. According to county officials, that worker is also employed by that out-of-county ambulance service.
According to one A&A firefighter, however, the township can get a quicker response from the out-of-county ambulance than it can from the county ambulance.
Warren said there have been complaints from residents who are paying for the county service but receiving service from other providers.
Warren acknowledged there are times during a major incident that assistance may be needed from outside agencies.
“We have run into Brown Township to help them when they need it,” he said, adding that at times, they need help from others as well.
At the end of the day, cooperation is key, but official protocol is needed.
“We have to work together,” he said, but the county needs to be the primary agency to provide service to its residents, he added.
That was the same thing Hamilton said to commissioners. He said when the service became operational, those townships said they did not want to be a part of the service.
“That causes a delay in response,” he said.
When there is a medical problem in Clay Township, the county dispatches the fire department. Then dispatchers must call the Mooresville Police Department, who dispatches the fire department, and have that agency dispatch the ambulance to the location.
Hamilton said they let the situation go on because they had to get the service going and they did not need any additional problems.
But now, Hamilton said the time has come “to fight the battle and get it corrected.”
Hamilton said he wants the commissioners to look at changing the way emergencies are dispatched.
“We need to dispatch by Geo Zone,” he said, referring to dispatch based on location and travel time, which means the closest available service is sent to the emergency.
“It doesn’t make sense to send Paragon Fire to an incident near (Ind.) 37 and Pine Drive when Washington Township Fire Department is up the road.”
Hamilton was referring to the many crashes that have occurred in that area. The Paragon Fire Co. had to travel by county roads to the location. The Washington Township Fire Department has a four-lane highway to use.
Warren agreed that dispatching needs to be updated to provide better coverage.
Both men said with I-69 coming, there will need to be changes to the way fire and EMS respond to incidents.
Warren said he had discussed the matter with county attorney Rod Bray, who could not attend Tuesday’s meeting.
He said Bray told him that under state law, township trustees must provide fire coverage for residents. The law does not say they have to provide EMS coverage, Warren said. He said that Bray told him that trustees have no authority to say what ambulance service is dispatched to their area.
After discussing the matter, the commissioners voted to have Bray prepare a resolution that requires the use of the county’s ambulance service in all townships except for Brown and Madison. That resolution will be voted on at the Feb. 5 commissioner meeting.
Warren asked the commissioners to consider an agreement with Liberty Township in Hendricks County for ambulance service. Warren said the township lost its ALS certification and is only a BLS provider. He said if they need a medical, they need to call for assistance. Warren said they would only cover the southern half of the township. He said they have an ambulance based in the Monroe Township Fire Station.
“It’s only a short drive up (Ind.) 39 into Hendricks County,” he said.
He said they have asked for help and if the commissioners approve, it will be a way to assist a neighbor and generate revenue for the county.
Warren said run numbers show there will be a need to add a third ambulance at the Martinsville location. He said there may be a need to add a second ambulance to the Monroe Township station.
The commissioners will vote on the request at the February meeting.
Barring 911 service
Warren said there is a need for an ordinance to bar the use of private ambulance services for 911 service. He said there is nothing wrong with a private service being used by hospitals and nursing homes to transport non-emergency patients. But, he said, they should not be involved in responding to 911 calls. He said the county’s ambulance service is a county agency but it is also a business. Warren said to maintain the highest quality of service, the county needs to be free from private ambulances being used for 911 calls. He said one of the private services that provided coverage to Martinsville is going out of business in Indiana at the end of the month.
The commissioners will vote on the request at the February meeting.
By Keith Rhoades | Reporter | Published Jan 20, 2018 in The Mooresville-Decatur Times