Friday, April 11, 2014

A woman dies because a rural county skimps on its ambulance service; weekly digs deep, points way

The need for better emergency services in rural areas is illustrated in the tragic story of Rita Sue Jenkins. The Western Kentucky woman lived just four miles from an ambulance station in the small county seat of Elkton. But when her family called 911 on March 24, it took the ambulance 43 minutes to get there. She never made it to the hospital, dying five minutes later in her home, reports Tonya Grace of the Todd County Standard, a weekly paper that has earned the title of best small newspaper in the state for seven straight years.

The problem, which is one that many rural areas face, is a lack of services. Todd County only has two ambulance crews. One was at a call in a neighboring county because that county's services were already occupied, and the other was sent out to another call that came within minutes of the call for Jenkins, Grace writes. That meant that despite Jenkins' close proximity to the ambulance station (a relative said it took him four minutes to drive there) the ambulance that responded to her call came from another county.

Jim Duke, owner of the Todd County service, told Grace that anytime two calls are received at the same time, dispatch personnel and the ambulance crew decide which is worse and respond to that one, arranging for another crew to get the second one. Since the other caller reported a cardiac arrest, and Jenkins' family reported weakness and someone sick, the other call got top priority.

Since the incident, suggestions have been made to improve service, such as having one truck on duty all the time with a paramedic and emergency medical technician, and the other to have two trucks, a 24-hour and a floater crew truck on duty for 12 hours during the day, with an crew on call the other 12 hours, Grace writes. One ambulance is staffed 24 hours a day and another one floats between Todd County and adjoining Logan County. Todd County can't afford two full-time ambulances, Judge-Executive Daryl Greenfield told Grace. In her long, richly detailed story, she notes that the service, whose contract is up for renewal, has been "criticized for not hiring local people who would be familiar with the local community, its roads and neighborhoods."

But if rural residents in places like Todd County want better services, they're going to have to pay for it, writes Ryan Craig, editor and publisher of the Standard. "What we see as the real issue is the funding of, not only this service, but other services in the county," Craig opines in a front-page column. "For too long we have kept our funding levels about the same while other counties around us have upped their level of services through smart funding."

Craig concludes: "It is time we no longer condemn and threaten to run off our local officials at even the mention of higher taxes, especially if it is to improve our lives. As the old sayings go, we are at the nub, and all the blood is out of the turnip. The family of Rita Jenkins told the Standard that they don't want something like this to happen again. I couldn't agree more. It is time we became serious about our services. We owe that to Rita Jenkins and her family."

To read both articles click here.

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