May 16, 2018 10:49:39 AM
Alex Holloway - [email protected]
Starkville aldermen have selected Pafford EMS to provide ambulance service for a new emergency medical service district.
Aldermen approved a contract with Pafford on a 5-2 vote, with Sandra Sistrunk of Ward 2, David Little of Ward 3, Jason Walker of Ward 4, Roy A. Perkins of Ward 6 and Henry Vaughn of Ward 7 supporting. Ward 1's Ben Carver and Ward 5's Patrick Miller opposed the vote.
The acceptance of the one-year contract is contingent on Pafford accepting language to defend the city against potential liability that City Attorney Chris Latimer said was originally in the contract and removed.
Aldermen also approved creating the EMS district itself, which will allow Pafford to station three ambulances at Starkville Fire Department stations with the stated goal of reducing response times on city calls and reducing how often fire trucks have to respond to medical calls. The district is contiguous with the city's municipal boundaries, and is anticipated to be ready to begin service by Aug. 1.
Concerns about response times
Pafford, which is based out of Ruston, Louisiana, and OCH Regional Medical Center had pitched providing ambulance service for the EMS district at the board's May 1 meeting. However, on Tuesday, several aldermen said they believed Pafford was the best choice.
Little said he was concerned about some of the response times from OCH's ambulance service that Starkville Fire Chief Charles Yarbrough provided to aldermen.
Sistrunk noted 25 percent of OCH's response times from that information, which covered three months of calls, took more than 10 minutes.
Little said he wasn't as concerned about higher ambulance call rates, which OCH said could be a concern during their presentation earlier in the month, in the face of lengthy response issues.
"It's not like a taxi service when we're talking about rates," Little said. "If I need an ambulance, or my loved one needs an ambulance, I don't care what the rate is. You know? I want to a siren quick and not 42 minutes later."
Yarbrough told The Dispatch he pulled the last year of EMS response times from 911 data, and separated the city calls from responses to the county. He said he selected three months at random, due to the sheer volume of calls -- more than 4,000 -- for the full year.
Hospital CEO Richard Hilton, speaking to media after the board's decision, said aldermen didn't reach out to the hospital with concerns about response times before Tuesday's vote and he felt they should have.
"I've been at this hospital since 1983 and the CEO since 2012," Hilton said. "Our emergency room, at the present time, has six emergency room physicians. Five of them are board-certified in emergency medicine. There has not been one time where our emergency room doctors have said response times are affecting patient care from the scene of the accident to the time of arrival at the hospital.
"Since that seemed to be so concerning, it would have behooved the aldermen to ask our emergency room physicians about that clinical aspect -- was and has patient care been compromised with the service our hospital has been providing," he added.
Michael Hunt, director of OCH's emergency services, said the hospital will regroup and decide how best to focus on improving its service to Mississippi State University and the county beyond Starkville's city limits. Hunt said OCH will also maintain its transfer services from the hospital to other facilities.
Carver: 'I am a vocal supporter of the hospital'
Carver, who said he trusts the hospital's physicians and ambulance service, suggested the board allow OCH a one-year period to start the EMS district, rather than first going to a private provider.
"I am a vocal supporter of the hospital and I think a lot of us on the board are," Carver said. "My opinion is the hospital hasn't really done anything -- when this discussion started, I think we kind of veered off course.
"My opinion is I think the hospital should maintain it for a year, and have some kind of daily call log -- something we check," Carver later added. "If there's a big red flag at the end of the 12 months, at that point, you go to the private sector."
Mayor Lynn Spruill said she didn't view the choice for Pafford as a vote of displeasure with OCH. However, she noted that some things Pafford offered, such as a free EMS training for firefighters, weren't matched by OCH. Training alone could save the city $18,000 to $21,000 per year, Spruill said.
"I think there are some opportunities that aren't matched, which isn't to say we couldn't reduce our response times, which obviously is the main issue," Spruill said. "But in looking at trying to save money as associated with our fire department out of the general fund for training -- I think that's something worth looking at."