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Column: Ambulance panel a step in right direction

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THE recent drawn-out process in determining a provider of ambulance services for Bartholomew County and the city of Columbus has served to stress the need for an entity that can oversee the delivery of those services.

The complexity of the negotiations above a contract that was eventually awarded to Columbus Regional Hospital — which had been providing those services since 2006 — was exacerbated by a number of questions relating to statistics in areas such as response times.

Although an entity — the Columbus Emergency Ambulance Services Board — had been put in place to make a recommendation on a primary ambulance provider, there has since developed a gray area in ascertaining how the system is functioning and what needs to be done in taking corrective action.

Although some might think of this function as adding to governmental bureaucracy, such a step should, indeed, bring a measure of coherence to the issue and provide the means to quickly address a situation rather than waiting for the next meeting of the Columbus City Council or Bartholomew County Commissioners.

Many of the actions that might be addressed by such a body are operational, requiring a hands-on approach that sometimes get lost in bureaucracies.

The need for a permanent ambulance oversight committee that would be armed with the powers to immediately take corrective action was recently outlined by Ed Reuter, the director of the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center.

Reuter expressed concerns about responsibilities that might be forced on emergency dispatchers in determining the level of particular emergencies, noting “the only people who really know what’s going on there are the first responders who get there,” and expressing concerns about “dispatchers trying to make calls they cannot see.”

Under the tiered response system that had been advocated by Columbus Regional Hospital, trained emergency dispatchers would determine on a case-by-case basis whether paramedics, emergency medical technicians or other rescue personnel should respond to a call.

Response time was also cited by members of the Ambulance Services Board as an issue that should be of ongoing concern. During the negotiating process, several officials expressed concerns that some information relating to past response times was not readily available.

There should obviously be limits on the powers entrusted to such an oversight committee, with the ultimate authority residing within the appropriate elected officials. However, there needs to be some mechanism where operational changes can be made quickly. Those decisions are best left to trained professionals in the field.

The citizens of Bartholomew County have a lot invested in ambulance services. There needs to be a means available to ensure they are getting the best service possible.

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