Finally, KC ambulance changes under way
The Kansas City Star
Mediocre ambulance response times are unacceptable. Kansas Citians deserve an emergency medical services system designed to swiftly and efficiently help people in need. Unfortunately, too much past effort has tilted toward propping up Fire Department staffing.
It’s unclear whether proposed changes in ambulance deployment will benefit residents in the long term. However, the small steps announced this week indicate that Mayor Sly James, City Manager Troy Schulte and fire union leaders finally are ready to lead on an issue that has festered since the Fire Department’s rushed and ill-designed takeover of ambulances in early 2010.
Schulte said Tuesday he plans to hire a new fire chief with experience in emergency medical services; recently retired fire chief Smokey Dyer lacked that experience. And it showed, especially when Dyer played down bad ambulance response times or gave the impression that fighting fires was still far and away the top priority for his agency.
James said in an interview he’s eager to see whether several proposed efforts can improve service.
Essentially, the city wants to send fewer fully staffed ambulances to medical calls that aren’t life-threatening. One idea is to send a pumper truck, partly staffed by paramedics, to some calls. Another is to use basically equipped ambulances for non-emergency transports.
The city needs to reduce the burden on some ambulance crews that now rush to and from too many calls in parts of the city, imperiling the quality of care.
The tweaks must be carefully monitored to insure the changes don’t present any greater risks to lives.
So far it appears the Fire Department’s interim leaders aren’t in any hurry to embrace major changes. For example, the policy of sending pumper trucks or other fire equipment to almost all medical incidents is costly and appears unnecessary to many residents. The city expects soon to start a study in how efficiently it uses fire suppression and ambulance personnel.
Top city officials must monitor how the new ambulance deployment models work, then make sure a new fire chief boldly pursues further improvements.