The next time there is a heart attack or a bad car wreck in Richmond County, which ambulance responds could hinge on what a regional emergency services council decides.
The Region VI Emergency Medical Services Council voted Wednesday to have a committee investigate whether the closest available ambulance is actually responding to 911 calls. The council also voted to refer to committee a request by Gold Cross Emergency Medical Service to get a zone in which to operate its ambulances.
The votes followed complaints by Gold Cross owner Bo Pounds and chief executive officer Thomas Schneider that in the 13 months it has operated in Richmond County, it has received one call from 911.
"Ambulances (from competitor Rural/Metro Ambulance) were dispatched next door to Gold Cross when Gold Cross had ambulances sitting within 100 feet" of the call, Mr. Schneider said.
According to Rural/Metro area general manager Ernie Doss, calls to 911 are routed to Rural/Metro, which would then dispatch the ambulances. But Rural/Metro has a contract with University Hospital, which technically owns the coverage for Richmond County, and Gold Cross is not even listed as a backup provider, Mr. Doss said.
The one call Gold Cross received was May 1 when all of Rural/Metro's ambulances were already out on calls and the company appealed to Gold Cross for help, Mr. Doss said.
Gold Cross recently asked the Augusta Commission to back its bid for a zone in which it would be a recognized provider who could respond to calls. But that system is contrary to state law, said Rich Elliott, license officer for the Georgia Office of Emergency Medical Services. Under state law, those decisions are supposed to be made by the regional EMS councils, Mr. Elliott said.
But while the closest ambulance should be sent, the council also needs to make sure that there is a commitment by the ambulance company to serve an entire area and not just select communities, and to provide quality service, said council member E. Glenn Bridges, an emergency room physician at University.
"We need to get the doctors and nurses back into the decision" by letting the council decide, he said. "We don't need these decisions to be made by politicians."
While Rural/Metro supports the closest ambulance concept, it will be up to Gold Cross to prove it can provide a significant benefit to patients by taking some calls, Mr. Doss said.
The wrangling has upset Augusta resident Jack Usry, who came out for the meeting.
"I don't care what it says on the side of the truck," Mr. Usry said. "If I'm having a heart attack, I don't want them playing games with my life."