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Hawthorne Fla--Officials Question Use of Ambulances for Inter-Facility Transports

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  • Hawthorne Fla--Officials Question Use of Ambulances for Inter-Facility Transports

    Gainesville Sun

    Hawthorne: Ambulance use may cost lives


    By CINDY SWIRKO
    Sun staff writer

    HAWTHORNE - City officials say the practice of using the Alachua County ambulance stationed here to ferry patients between hospitals could end up costing a life because it is not always available for emergencies.

    County officials, however, say the ambulance is not being pulled away too much and that adequate backup exists.

    The tug-of-war over the ambulance has been festering for months, has been debated at a County Commission meeting and is expected to be discussed again at a workshop this summer.

    "In April, the ambulance was taken five times for an average of 10 hours at a time. That's pretty distressing," Mayor John Martin said. "We think they need to re-examine their whole system and how they are using it."

    County Fire Chief Will May said the system is working as it should.

    "It is being used as the protocol and policy was set up," May said. "But I think this summer we will have a workshop to look at the policies and procedures."

    May said the county does one to three transfers a day during the week, generally taking a patient from one hospital to another.

    Under county policies, transfers within Alachua County and those immediately surrounding it are called local transfers. When the primary crew is busy with another transfer, the closest on-duty unit is assigned.

    Trips to hospitals in counties farther than that are called long-distance transfers. If the primary crew is busy, the county will try to schedule an overtime unit. If that can't be done and the transfer cannot be rescheduled, the ambulance crew from Hawthorne or Orange Heights is assigned.

    May said ambulances from Hawthorne and Orange Heights are mostly used for the transfers because they traditionally receive the fewest emergency calls.

    If an emergency then happens in that zone, the first-responder unit is sent from a fire unit to stabilize the patient. An ambulance from another station or a hospital helicopter will be sent if the patient needs to be taken to a hospital.

    "It's been going for almost 13 years. We're doing nothing differently. I guess someone just took note of something and called it to someone's attention," May said. "We have first-response EMS coming from the fire units. We have basic life support from the Hawthorne station."

    But a point of debate between Alachua County Fire Rescue and Hawthorne officials is the meaning of "closest available unit" for local transfers.

    Martin said the Hawthorne ambulance sometimes transports a patient to Lake City, for instance, when an ambulance from a station in northern Alachua County would be the closest.

    He said that is a violation of the transfer protocol and unfairly ties up the Hawthorne ambulance for hours.

    "They should use the Alachua or High Springs ambulance for Lake City, or the Micanopy one for Marion County, or Archer for Levy County. But they have been using the Hawthorne one almost exclusively as their first choice," Martin said. "We also transport people totally out of state. It has increased the response times for emergencies here. So far, no one has lost their life because of it, but my concern is once it happens, it will be too late."

    Fire Rescue Operations Chief Ed Bailey said the "closest available unit" is the ambulance that is closest to the hospital from which a patient will be transferred.

    For instance, if a patient at Shands needs to be transferred to Lake City and the Hawthorne ambulance is at Shands to drop off a patient, that ambulance is the closest for the transfer and will be used.

    "We use point of pickup as the closest unit. If it happens to be Hawthorne's unit, that's the one that will be assigned to the call," Bailey said. "The Hawthorne and Orange Heights units are two of least utilized we have in the system. The Hawthorne runs about two calls in a 24-hour period."

    County records show Alachua County Fire Rescue handled 24,570 calls in 2002. About 2.8 percent of them, or 687, were handled by the Hawthorne unit.

    Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or [email protected].
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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