Corbin city officials are raising questions regarding the county ambulance service response time to the home of a city commissioner who suffered a stroke over the weekend, and are saying the incident is not an isolated one.
At the request of Corbin Mayor Willard McBurney and City Manager Bill Ed Cannon, city police chief David Campbell said he has investigated the issue and found that it took about 20 minutes for a Whitley County EMS ambulance to arrive at the home of Corbin City Commissioner Bruce Farris Sunday afternoon. Whitley EMS officials claim response was a little faster at 19 minutes. Farris lives on First Street.
Whitley EMS has a station located on 18th Street near Corbin High School. Knox EMS operates a similar facility on Roy Kidd Avenue, both just minutes drive from Farris’s house. Campbell said he’s confounded as to why the response was so slow.
"To me, yes that is too long. Especially for a stroke or heart attack victim, 20 minutes is a long time," Campbell said. "We have two ambulance stations in town and commissioner Farris lives right in Corbin. I wouldn’t have thought it would take that long."
The 911 call reporting Farris’s condition was answered by the Whitley County 911 Center who then dispatched an ambulance at around 1:28 p.m. It did not arrive until sometimes around 1:48 p.m. According to a log of the incident on Corbin’s Computer Assisted Dispatch System (CAD), the ambulance passed Corbin City Hall about five minutes before arriving at Farris’s home.
"They must have gotten lost or something, I’m not sure," Campbell said. "I know these ambulance services get busy and tied up. I don’t know what the average response time is in other counties so I really don’t have anything to compare it to."
In 2008, the subject of ambulance service coverage in the city of Corbin reached a fever pitch when city officials briefly flirted with the idea of the city starting it’s own ambulance service. In response, Whitley County and Corbin leaders hashed out a deal that allowed Whitley EMS to occupy the old 18th fire station rent-free and use it as its northernmost outpost in the county. The concern, at the time, was that Knox EMS, which operated the lone ambulance service station in the city, was swamped and could not respond on many occasions in a timely fashion in life-threatening situations.
That concern has been raised resurrected.
Corbin Mayor Willard McBurney said this week commissioners are taking a hard look at other options in regards to ambulance service.
"I can tell you this is a concern with all the commissioners," McBurney said. "We plan to address the situation and try to find out what the problem is. I was assured there would be an ambulance here in Corbin at all times. If you got one in the city of Corbin, there is no way it is going to take 20 minutes to show up."
"We don’t like to be hollering wolf every time they make a run that takes a little longer than normal, but this isn’t an isolated incident," McBurney added. "We are the most heavily populated part of the county on this end. Naturally you would think there would be an EMS service available all the time."
Campbell said the ambulance that transported Farris was dispatched from Whitley EMS’s main base in Goldbug. During his investigation, he found that while Whitley EMS and Knox EMS both have "mutual aid" agreements between the two of them, Knox EMS was never called to respond.
On Tuesday, Whitley EMS Director Kelly Harrison said that the Corbin station normally has two ambulances and crews on hand to answer calls. It appears on one was there Sunday when Farris suffered his stroke and that crew was busy on another run.
"You have to take into consideration that just because you have lights an sirens doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful," Harrison said. "I think 19 minutes is OK. I think our crew did a good job."
Harrison said she didn’t not know if another crew was on call in Corbin Sunday and, if there was, what that crew was doing at the time.
In his department, Campbell said officers have complained on numerous occasions regarding the length of time it takes and ambulance to arrive at wreck scenes or during other situations when one is needed. He said on at least two occasions last summer he transported automobile crash victims to the hospital himself rather than wait on an ambulance – one and woman who was eight months pregnant, and another a man who hit a city truck on Barton Mill Road and broke his arm and collarbone.
"Thirty minutes would have been a long time to have a pregnant woman laying there screaming," Campbell said. "I just took her to the hospital because it was too long to wait."
McBurney said the city may once again investigate the feasibility of doing some ambulance runs on it’s own. Officials also had an offer from Ambulance Inc. of Laurel County in 2008 that would provide coverage to the city. He added that offer might be revisited.
Ambulance Inc. of Laurel County Chief Jimmy Bridges said his company is still interested in the idea of serving Corbin if the state would grant a "certificate of need" allowing them to do so. The process of obtaining the highly prized certificates – which gives health care providers like hospitals, nursing homes and ambulance services to operate in a particular area with little competition – is often lengthy and political.
"We talked with Corbin Mayor Willard McBurney about it before and we are still interested," Bridges said. "I think we run a pretty efficient business here. We are good at what we do."
Bridges said average response times to calls in London is five minutes. He said it is "very, very rare" that Ambulance Inc. has no units to cover calls in the city. The private, non-profit company has bases in downtown London and at the Lily Volunteer Fire Department station. It has mutual aid agreements with all surrounding counties.
"If we every get a situation where we do not have enough crews working, we do a group call that pages all of our members to respond from home," Bridges said. "There are a few of us that have response vehicles and if we are close to a scene we will just go there directly until someone brings us a truck."
In a prepared statement, Whitley County Judge-Executive Pat White said Tuesday Whitley County EMS is "exploring and ‘on call’ policy to bring additional staff on exceptionally busy weekends."
The statement says the Whitley County E-911 center requested mutual aid from the "EMT staff" at the Corbin Fire Department "who assisted in patient care prior to the arrival of EMS."
"Our heartfelt support goes out to Mr. Farris and his family during this time," the statement said. "Mr. Farris’ dedication and service to the City of Corbin is a benefit not only to the City of Corbin, but the whole county. He is both a business and political leader for this county. We wish and hope the best for a speedy recovery."