Gold Star EMS Director Charles Proctor explains to Sumter County Board of Commissioners the alleged lack of ambulance service back on August 1 of this year

Published 5:51 pm Monday, August 22, 2022

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AMERICUS – At the Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC) regular meeting on Tuesday, August 16, Gold Star EMS, LLC Director Charles Proctor explained to the BOC what exactly happened on Monday, August 1, when a man who needed transportation to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany was unable to get an ambulance to transport him there until late that evening. Commissioner Jim Reid brought this to the attention of his fellow commissioners at the BOC’s work session a week ago and expressed his concern and belief that there weren’t any available ambulances in Sumter County on that particular day.

At the BOC Work Session, Board Chairman Mark Waddell stated that he would talk with Proctor about what exactly happened and Proctor decided to come to Tuesday’s regular meeting of the BOC to share his company’s side of the story.

Proctor started by apologizing for not being at the Work Session the week before and stated that had he known that the issue was going to be discussed, he would have been there.

“As soon as I found out there were some problems that needed to be discussed, I made sure I got over here to discuss those with you,” Proctor told the BOC. “It’s an absolute pleasure to be the 911 provider for your county. It’s our first 911 zone and I covet it. I can tell you that.”

Proctor went on to say that he wanted to educate the BOC on how things work so that these things can be explained to the citizens of Sumter County. “When I found out things happened back at the beginning of August, I was like ‘Oh my goodness’!” Proctor said. “There are too many days that have gotten behind us for us to get in front of this.” Proctor went on to say that when he found out it had nothing to do with the 911 zone, he was extremely happy. However, he acknowledged that there was discussion amongst the Commissioners a week ago about a citizen that did not get ambulance transportation to Albany on August 1 until 6:30 p.m. that evening.

“That particular person was in the intensive care unit here at Phoebe Sumter,” proctor said. “He needed to go to Phoebe Main (the hospital in Albany) where he was going to be placed in another intensive care unit.”

Proctor added that the request to transfer the patient to Albany was made by the patient’s family and not from Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, which, according to Proctor, is looked at totally differently if one understands the hierarchy of how hospitals work. “It’s one thing for them to decide that you need to go somewhere else. It’s a totally different thing if the family decides that you need to go somewhere else,” Proctor said. “I’m not saying that either is better or worse than the other, but there’s a different plan of how that works.”

Proctor went on to say that in those situations, Gold Star is an ambulance service that can go anywhere in the state of Georgia and that Gold Star’s headquarters is in Albany, where there are six ambulances. “We have four ambulances in Americus and we have two ambulances in Thomasville,” Proctor said. “We have three ambulances in Clinch County and we have three ambulances down in Bainbridge, so we’re all over the Southwest Georgia area,” Proctor continued.

He went on to say that a lot of times when people are talking about Gold Star, being that Gold Star is the county’s 911 service, it’s easy for people to think that that is what they were talking about on August 1. However, Proctor stated that on that particular day, they were dealing with the non-emergency service that operates out of Albany. Proctor added that when Phoebe has an ambulance call that is not an emergency, they put it through Gold Star’s system. “We have a two hour response time to get that patient moved and it goes into the system and that ambulance gets dispatched,” Proctor said. “If we have a non-emergency ambulance here, which is our fourth ambulance, then we will send the one here to handle it.”

Proctor went on to say that on the evening of August 1, the patient was told that he was going to leave at 6:30, but the nurses told the patient that he wasn’t going to have an ambulance immediately because the ambulances were on call, which made everybody here think that the ambulances from the 911 zone were on call. “It was stated that one of the ambulances was in Augusta and that another ambulance was in Macon, which makes it further seem like there’s not any ambulances here, which is totally not how that works,” Proctor said. “We do not send ambulances from here to Augusta unless the world has come to an end.”

Proctor went on to say that he wants there to be ambulances in the Americus 911 Zone, but on the evening of August 1, they were talking about ambulances from Albany and not ambulances from the Americus 911 Zone.

Proctor stated that had the patient had a true emergency and Phoebe Sumter deemed it necessary for him to go to the intensive care unit at Phoebe Putney, Phoebe Sumter Medical Center would have dialed 911 and one of Gold Star’s ambulances from the Americus 911 Zone would go straight to Phoebe Sumter and take the patient straight to the intensive care unit at Phoebe Putney. “That’s how that would happen,” Proctor said. “It would happen the same way in labor delivery. They had a lady over there having a baby and they couldn’t handle it here, they would dial 911. One of the trucks from here would go to the hospital and take that person to either Macon or to Phoebe Main (Albany) to get that mother and baby taken care of,” Proctor continued.

He added that in the case of a person getting shot in the chest, if the emergency room realizes that the patient needs immediate chest surgery and it cannot be done at Phoebe Sumter, the hospital will dial 911 and the ambulance will take the person to Phoebe Putney. “That happens all the time nearly every day and most of the time, five or six times a day,” Proctor said.

However, Proctor went on to say that for a patient involved in a non-emergency situation, the contract says that as long as it originates in the Americus 911 Zone, Gold Star can use a 911 ambulance to do it, but added that Gold Star chooses not to do that because they want the Americus 911 ambulances to be in the Americus 911 Zone. “We bring our ambulances from Albany to move those patients out of here,” Proctor said. “The only time that we would use one from this zone is if we had all the rest all over Georgia like happens every now and then.”

Proctor went on to say that it is extremely rare when Gold Star would use a Sumter County 911 ambulance to move a non-emergency patient and according to the contract, of the three ambulances, Gold Star can only use one to do that.

“The way the contract reads, we make the most money if I use that third ambulance to move your non-emergency patients because it says in the contract that we can do it,” Proctor said. “ We choose not to because it’s not in the best interest of the 911 zone.” He added that Gold Star puts in a fourth ambulance, which is not in the contract. “People will say we do that to generate revenue,” Proctor said. “ We can generate the same and better revenue by using the third truck if we chose to do that. We use the fourth truck to attract staff. If we have a robust staff, then we don’t have problems getting people, so we put the fourth truck in to attract staff to those extra hours and allow our current staff to get overtime if they want it,” He continued.

Proctor went on to summarize that he has never been for and still is against using a 911 emergency ambulance to transfer a patient who is in a non-emergency situation. He also thanked the BOC for renewing its contract with Gold Star and he mentioned that Clinch County renewed its contract with Gold Star as well. “I hope that in the future, as we get more contracts, they’ll continue to see that we want to do it the right way,” Proctor said.

Proctor also added that he wanted the BOC to understand that a staff or emergency call from Phoebe Sumter Medical Center would go to Middle Flint 911 and a Sumter County Gold Star ambulance would respond to it. However, Proctor added that if it’s a non-emergency call, it would come from one of the company’s other areas to move the patient.

Proctor also told the BOC that paramedics are “going away” and that they are becoming extremely rare, just like doctors making house calls, but that the difference between the job description of a paramedic and an advanced EMT is extremely little. “The two or three things that a paramedic can do different than an advanced EMT are rarely even done in the field,” Proctor said. “If I could pick somebody that I wanted to work on me or my family, I would pick a paramedic. I’m a paramedic. I wish that everybody that we had on our ambulances were paramedics. We just don’t live in that age anymore,” He continued.

However, Proctor stated that in the eyes of the state of Georgia, the advanced EMT is an ALS Ambulance and that is probably all that will be seen in small, rural counties like Sumter County for the next 10 or 15 years. “Paramedics are just going to start going away unless the state makes changes to how they are trained,” Proctor said.

Proctor added that he spoke to Board Chairman Mark Waddell, Sumter County Fire and Rescue Chief Jerry Harmon and Commissioner Jim Reid about what happened on August 1 and to make sure that things are “going good”, but he added that on August 1, there were ambulances in Sumter County to respond to ambulance calls.

Proctor also said that on rare occasions, there are no ambulances available and they are not staffed, but he added that Gold Star will bring staff from Albany to staff ambulances in Sumter County. He also stated that when an ambulance has to leave Sumter County to go to Albany, they will send a paramedic to Sumter County to stand by in the 911 zone. “That’s one of things that we are able to do because we have extra ambulances all over the place,” Proctor said.

Commissioner Reid thanked Proctor for calling him to explain what happened and added that the patient’s family was very appreciative concerning the situation because the patient’s blood oxygen level was down to 47 before he was transported to an intensive care unit at Phoebe Putney. Reid also told Proctor that when the truth about the situation came out that Phoebe Sumter had thrown Gold Star under the bus because they had told the family that they had called and that there were no ambulances available. “When you went back and you looked and you told me you looked at your logs, you did not get a call from Phoebe Sumter till 10:30 p.m., so you were inside your two hour window,” Reid told Proctor. Reid went on to tell Proctor that the patient, who is doing fine now, was almost incubated and that the patient told Reid that Phoebe Sumter didn’t like the idea that his wife and daughter wanted to move him to Albany and that the hospital was giving them a hard time about it.

Reid also reiterated to Proctor that Phoebe Sumter never made the phone call to Gold Star regarding the patient and that Proctor’s phone logs proved that to be the case. Proctor replied that sometimes, Phoebe Sumter will call the ambulances in the Americus 911 Zone and they could have gotten information that there wasn’t an ambulance available when in actuality, there was one available because the hospital went in the wrong direction. “We’ve had some discussions with the hospital about this before….them talking to our staff and our staff telling them that they can’t do it,” Proctor told Reid. “The people at the hospital didn’t realize that they should have called our dispatch center,” Proctor continued. Proctor went on to say that the situation needs to be cleared up with Phoebe Sumter, but that the contract that Gold Star has with the hospital is working pretty good.

Proctor also addressed a statement made at the BOC’s work session that the Marion County EMS Director was called and he got Lee County to send up an ambulance to move the patient. “That’s not how that would even work,” Proctor said. “The Marion County guy actually called our guy here. When our guy here called the hospital and we didn’t even have it in our system, he called the Albany office and the Albany office didn’t have it in our system either. When they finally got it in our system, it was the Albany ambulance that came up here and not a Lee County ambulance,” Proctor continued.

In his closing remarks, Proctor asked the BOC that if it believes that Gold Star’s service can be made better to not to hesitate to share any ideas it with him. Proctor also stated that Phoebe Sumter Medical Center does a phenomenal job of getting people in and out of the emergency room and with Gold Star having more ambulances than the surrounding counties, Gold Star helps the surrounding counties get out so that Gold Star can get them back to their counties where they only have one ambulance.

Proctor also stated that he recognizes that Phoebe Sumter is understaffed, as is Sumter County and Gold Star, but added that everyone needs to come together to perform a common job. Proctor also thanked Commissioner Reid for bringing this situation to light so that everyone is more educated as to how the system works and how to make it better.