Concern over lack of ambulance service in Sumter County expressed at Board of Commissioners Work Session

Published 10:50 pm Thursday, August 11, 2022

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AMERICUS – Near the end of its monthly work session on Tuesday, August 9, the Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC) heard from Commissioner Jim Reid, who stated that back on August 1, a citizen in his district was in dire need of transportation to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany to be placed in ICU.

Reid went on to say that at 6:30 p.m. on that day, Phoebe Putney notified Phoebe Sumter Medical Center that they had a bed for this particular patient in ICU, but at the time, there were only two ambulances available. “One was in route to Augusta and one was down in Dougherty County and not available,” Reid said.

Reid brought this up to the BOC because the county is paying Gold Star EMS, LLC $375,000 for a stand by fee, yet they only had two available ambulances. “Had there been another emergency, somebody had a heart attack or anything requiring an ambulance, there were no ambulances available,” Reid said. He went on to say that the patient’s family contacted the EMS Director from Marion County and they arranged transportation at 11 p.m. that evening to get him transferred to the Phoebe hospital in Albany to be placed in ICU.

“My question is what if something else happened? What if it was another person and they didn’t have the contact,” Reid said. “We’re paying them (Gold Star) to provide services. The bottom line is on August 1, that night, this county was naked as far as ambulance service. There was no ambulance service,” Reid continued.

Reid went on to say that Gold Star needs to be held accountable. “I came in green (unfamiliar) on this when we voted on that (the contract with Gold Star). I will not be green next time,” Reid said.

Board Chairman Mark Waddell asked if Phoebe Sumter Medical Center still has its own transportation ambulance because at one point in time, they had contracted with someone besides Gold Star. Reid replied that the patient’s family was told that Gold Star had to provide the transportation. “The bottom line is the EMS Director out of Marion County contacted the EMS Director in Lee County and got an ambulance out of Lee County to come up here and get him and take him to Albany,” Reid said.

Waddell told Reid that he would contact Gold Star EMS Director Charles Proctor about the situation, but reiterated to Reid that in times past, four calls would show up in a matter of 30 minutes and if those ambulances are tied up, they’re tied up.

Nevertheless, Waddell stated that he would contact Proctor concerning the matter and will ask him to pull the report from that time frame on August 1 in order to find out what those ambulances were doing during that time frame. However, Reid reiterated his position that if there had been another medical emergency during that particular time, there were no other ambulances available to serve Sumter County.

“They couldn’t fly the helicopter that night because of the weather conditions,” Reid said. “This particular person has a life flight issue prior to the life flight service and they would have done it, but the weather conditions were such that they couldn’t use the helicopter.”

Waddell replied that all he could say was based on the conversations he has had in the past, there are only so many ambulances and when those calls come in, they have to go to those calls. “If there are four accidents that happen all across the county, there are only so many ambulances,” Waddell said. “If somebody has a heart attack or no matter what the situation, there are only so many ambulances available, but I’m not making any excuses for anybody. I’m just giving you what past scenarios have happened,” Waddell continued.

While Reid understood where Waddell was coming from and said as much, he once again reiterated his concern that on that evening of August 1 during that time frame, had there been another medical emergency, there were no ambulances available in Sumter County.

Sumter County Fire and Rescue Chief Jerry Harmon stated that he had not received an email from Gold Star since the contract with the BOC was signed and therefore, stated that he did not know what they (Gold Star) had available every day. However, Chief Harmon added that his department has complaints about Gold Star’s service and stated that the contract is sitting on his desk and that he has been reviewing the contract to make sure that Gold Star is upholding its end of the bargain.

Commissioner Scott Roberson asked Harmon if, according to the county’s contract with Gold Star, the EMS service must have three ambulances available in Sumter County at all times. Harmon replied that according to the contract, that is the case.

However, Harmon added that Gold Star has come up short in that area in some instances.

One other gentleman at the meeting remarked that there was a situation in which Gold Star not only had just two ambulances in service, neither one of them had a paramedic on board, which disqualifies them as an ALS unit.

As mentioned earlier, Board Chairman Mark Waddell plans to contact Gold Star EMS Director Charles Proctor to see what is going on concerning the company’s alledged lapse in service. Stay tuned to the Americus Times-Recorder for a follow up on this story.