By Alyssa Schnugg
In an effort to improve ambulance response times, Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi /Priority Ambulance will be providing additional ambulances and personnel in exchange for being the only ambulances on the 911 dispatch rotation.
When Baptist sold its old facility to Oxford and Lafayette County in 2012 to build the current hospital, the contract included that Baptist would provide ambulance service to Lafayette County. However; as Lafayette County’s population grew rapidly, response times started to increase.
The county added another private ambulance company, CareMed, to the 911 rotation about four years ago.
About the same time, Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. partnered with Priority Ambulance in 2017 and became the organization’s primary ambulance service.
Now known as Baptist Ambulance, there are currently two, 24-hour ambulances with one additional 8-hour ambulance on the weekends in Lafayette County and Baptist and CareMed have shared the 911 calls.
On Monday, the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors approved a new 911 Emergency Medical Response Plan that would give Baptist Ambulance 100 percent of all 911 medical calls.
In exchange, Baptist Ambulance will provide three ambulances 24 hours a day, seven days a week plus three more ambulances 12 hours a day, Monday-Friday or two ambulances 12 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday and one supervisor fly car nine hours a day Monday-Friday.
Adjustments would be made for special events, like home football game weekends.
Priority Vice President of Operations Eric Messer said that Baptist Ambulance also has plans on building another ambulance facility out in the county to help with response times in the more rural areas of the county.
“We can’t run the county from the hospital – that just doesn’t work,” he said.
Baptist/Priority will hire six additional paramedics and an additional six EMTs.
The plan will commence by Jan. 31, 2022.
Along with more paramedics/EMTs and ambulances, Baptist Ambulance will provide an Automatic Vehicle Location Monitoring System that will allow real-time tracking of all ambulance units by 911 dispatchers, as well as other new software programs to upgrade the 911 system in Lafayette County.
Baptist Ambulance will also provide the county with $50,000 annually to used to hire a Medical Director to oversee all medical responders and systems and to take the lead on investigating any complaints or issues regarding emergency medical services in the county.
Baptist Ambulance, Lafayette County and the city of Oxford would help form an oversight committee to discuss the overall performance of the ambulance service. The committee would meet monthly.
The Board of Supervisors will select members of the committee at its January meeting.
Tony Halcin, with CareMed, attended Monday’s meeting and told the Board that by cutting out CareMed from the 911 rotation, they were hurting a local business.
“We don’t charge the county … we hire local people,” he said. “If another company gets all the 911 calls, we’re a private business – what are we supposed to do? If there is a case where (Baptist Ambulance) can’t support all the 911 calls, well, you just ran off a free company. This is going to chase a company like us out.”
Board President Mike Roberts told Halcin the county has been very grateful to CareMed’s help over the last few years and it is not the Board’s intention to run CareMed out of the county, and said CareMed can still do private transports.
“This Board took an oath to serve its citizens,” he said. “This Board, since I’ve been sitting on it, has been trying to address ambulance issues and it’s no different two and a half terms later. Things did improve when CareMed came on Board and we’re grateful for that. But the bigger picture to me is not about the money. It’s about getting that phone call when an ambulance took 45 minutes to arrive somewhere and me not having the answer. I don’t know if this will work, but I know it’s the best proposal I’ve seen since I’ve been on the Board.”