Crucial questions about KC's ambulance service
The Kansas City Star
Kansas Citians need more detailed reports to know whether ambulance response times by the Fire Department are effectively protecting and saving lives.
And residents deserve better information on how a new deployment model for responding to medical emergencies could save taxpayers money.
Unfortunately, these crucial issues remains murky and worrisome. Start with some data in the latest city auditor’s report.
Response times are worse in 2012 than they have been at any time since the Fire Department took over the ambulances in early 2010. And even in 2010 and 2011 response times had not often enough met the nine-minute citywide standard established by the City Council.
The audit also said the Fire Department has failed this entire year to report response times within council districts. Instead, only citywide numbers are provided. Residents in the districts don’t have adequate information to judge whether they are being well served by the Fire Department. That’s unacceptable.
In response to the audit, fire officials spun part of it as good news: The report said that the former operator — Metropolitan Ambulance Services Trust — and the Fire Department had provided similar response times.
As for the sharply longer ambulance calls in 2012, the Fire Department says it is using a new dispatch protocol. The goal is sound: Don’t send too many assets — people and equipment — if the situation does not warrant it. Still, it can take precious extra seconds to gather the information needed to make this decision. Council member John Sharp has harshly criticized that time lag.
This change deserves prompt attention from Mayor Sly James and the council. At a meeting scheduled Nov. 1, the Fire Department should provide evidence to back up the claim that the new protocol is protecting lives and saving money.
Taxpayers might be pleased to find that if the city needs fewer firefighters to respond to medical emergencies, some long-term savings could result.
City Manager Troy Schulte currently is looking to replace former Fire Chief Smokey Dyer, who too often brushed aside criticism of ambulance response times.
Schulte needs to hire a chief with significant experience improving emergency medical services. At the least, the next chief better have a top aide with that background.