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Some areas wait too long for arrival of ambulances
Copyright 2007 The Buffalo News
Many people who called for ambulances in certain Buffalo neighborhoods between January and March waited longer than they should have, the city's accountability panel was told Friday.
Rural/Metro Medical Services, Buffalo's sole ambulance provider, has had problems meeting response-time targets in some zones, and steps are being taken to address the issue.
Rural/Metro has been meeting its citywide goal of getting ambulances to destinations within eight minutes for at least 90 percent of all calls, fire officials said. But in some months, the response time goal fell below 85 percent in certain neighborhoods.
For example, it took Rural/Metro more than eight minutes to respond to 21.5 percent of all emergency calls logged in February in a zone that includes North Buffalo.
Because emergency calls typically spike during the summer, city officials are paying close attention to the issue.
"Rural/Metro has some internal issues they have to work out in terms of staffing," Deputy Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. told the CitiStat panel.
Another problem involves overcrowded hospital emergency rooms. Ambulance crews must stay with patients until they're admitted.
"This [problem] is so much bigger than us," said Fire Commissioner Michael S. Lombardo. "Emergency rooms have become people's primary care physicians."
Lombardo said officials recently implemented a new policy that allows dispatchers to give priority to more-serious medical emergencies.
Until this spring, Lombardo said, ambulances were dispatched to scenes in the order in which calls were received. Someone who called about a twisted ankle would have seen an ambulance before a person who called a minute later to report chest pains. While the new triage policy could mean longer waits for people with minor medical problems, Lombardo said it should mean faster response times for major emergencies.
Jay Smith, Rural/Metro's public affairs manager, acknowledged that there have been manpower problems on some shifts.
"Emergency room delays impact staffing more than people realize," he said. "The more [crews] are stuck at hospitals, the harder it is to keep cars on the road."
Smith said Rural/Metro has had to force some employees to work overtime on some shifts, but he doesn't think the company is understaffed.
"We're not any lower in staff numbers than we have been over the years," he said.
Rural/Metro has been working closely with the city's Emergency Medical Services Board and fire officials to address concerns over response times, Smith said.
The concerns spurred Leonard A. Matarese, the city's human resources commissioner, to renew his push to upgrade the Fire Department's ability to handle advanced medical emergencies. Firefighters are currently first responders to emergency calls and can provide basic life support services. Matarese and others have long pushed for a plan that would train and equip firefighters as paramedics.
"As a quality-of-life issue, this is something that would really help residents of the city," Matarese said.
© 2001-2011 City of Buffalo
Photos by Angel Art LTP, compliments of the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau. Additional photos by Adrian Roselli, compliments of Algonquin Studios