Ambulance district reports emergency response times in area improving

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Improved communication system, coverage and collaboration cited

Since Mercy's takeover of EMS services in the county in early March, the Barry County Ambulance District has reported its response times have improved by an average of 16.5 minutes.

"I've said it many times that I am incredibly grateful for the service that Cox provided as long as they did, but things have improved immensely since March 9," said Ken Cieslinski, board chairman for the district.

Cieslinski said along with improved response times, Mercy has helped the district improve on many levels.

"Mercy took care of getting everything up to standard," he said. "The district property has been in better condition than it's ever been, and everything has been inventoried. There were definite maintenance issues with all but two of the units. They've got those taken care of, and at no cost to the SBCAD. Response times are very good, and communication is far better than it's ever been."

The district is also now able to obtain more medical equipment they previously could not purchase.

"The county couldn't afford it with the money that was being paid to the old provider," Cieslinski said.

The district also reported better coverage.

"It's better for multiple reasons," he said. "[Mercy has] more resources in the area, and they are staging units throughout the county versus just sitting at the stations."

At its last meeting, the district discussed putting a unit in Eagle Rock during peak times to improve response times even more.

"Basically, a unit will be in Eagle Rock versus one having to respond there," Cieslinski said. "They will be at the fire department or a specific location in that jurisdiction. Mercy can monitor it and tell when and where the calls are coming from. So instead of responding from Cassville or Shell Knob, they'll already be in the general vicinity."

"We report to the board and just gave them our first report that shows what our average response time is for the county," said Bob Patterson, Mercy EMS director. "I know our response time has been around 16.5 minutes in south Barry County. We are trying to leave an ambulance in Cassville and Shell Knob at all times. From the beginning, we proposed to the district we would use our resources across the region to supplement, so if all the ambulances in Barry County are busy, we would provide other ambulances to provide coverage."

Patterson said the increased response times are due to good relationships and a team effort.

"I think it's attributed to our relationship with 911, the first responders, the fire department, he said. "It's all of those things that add up. It's definitely a team effort, and everyone works together to make those things happen."

Getting to emergencies in what are often rural areas has not been a problem either, Patterson said.

"That has not been a major challenge for us," Patterson said. "We have a great relationship with the local 911 center. We use their mapping. They're just a great group to work with that's been very supportive."

The Barry County E911 center also reports improvements.

"I can say there's been an increase in coverage due to Mercy being the ambulance providers," said Mike Phillips, Barry County E911 executive director. "One thing we are able to see is when they are out of the area, they are rotating ambulances from Branson West to this area and Aurora. So when a unit is out of Cassville or Shell Knob, they are moving other units to county lines. It's called staging vehicles. That wasn't happening before, simply because the surrounding providers were Mercy."

Phillips said communication has also drastically improved.

"We now have two-way radio communication that we never had before," he said. "Before, when a 911 call would come in, we were having to transfer those calls out to Springfield," he said. "Now, when a call comes in, it stays here, and we are dispatching a Mercy ambulance. So now, the call is maintained on a local level. We provide the info to Mercy, and they get the information to their field units. Since we're not having to transfer the call we are able to give out faster information. Before, if Cox had a question, the units had to call on their phones and say, 'Can you help me with directions?' Now, we have a two-way radio."

Phillips said knowing the area also contributes to increased response times.

"We have local vernacular here, and we can relay that information to Mercy's questions," he said. "That's why addressing is so important. If you know the approximate area, our guys can give them cross streets or say, 'It's a mile off of Highway 39 or 37.' Another thing we use now is technology that will put out to our first responders where these calls are happening so they can look on their phone, tablet or laptop and see the directions. We didn't have that before because Cox had their own policies and procedures on how to do things."

Each day, Phillips said his focus is on one thing.

"We have one purpose here, and that is emergency services," he said. "I felt there was a better way of doing things and was happy to see major improvements with our ambulance provider."

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