In the long run, last year’s prolonged and sometimes contentious discussions leading up to a renewal of the contract for Columbus Regional Hospital to provide ambulance service for Columbus and Bartholomew County proved to be welcome news for local taxpayers.
In the last year of the old contract, the city and county jointly paid $954,000 in subsidies to the hospital. This year, with the new contract in place, both are scheduled to pay a total of $150,000. Beginning next year there will be no subsidies.
While this represents a significant savings to both areas of government, there was an added benefit for thousands of Columbus residents that came out of the process — an added sense of security.
As part of the agreement, the hospital will have four ambulances equipped with advanced life support on duty at all times. Two ambulances have been relocated to city firehouses — one at Fire Station 5 on Goeller Boulevard west of town and the second at Fire Station 1 at 11th and Washington streets.
The other two ambulances that will be available are remaining in their existing homes — one at a CRH depot at 27th Street and Central Avenue and a second at Columbus Township Fire Rescue Station on Repp Drive.
The new alignment strengthens immeasurably a working relationship between the fire department and hospital personnel that has been in place since the early 1960s, when fire department personnel manned what was then called the Operation Life service. That relationship continued until 2006, when the city decided the renamed Medic 1 service was too difficult to maintain and signed a contract with the hospital.
Even with that break, fire department personnel remained integral elements in emergency response. Officials estimate that firefighters are called to the scene 85 percent of the time an ambulance is called.
An even more critical benefit to the realignment is quicker response times that will be available, particularly to those living in the rapidly growing western section of the city.
The lack of an ambulance in that section posed a dangerous situation, one that came to fruition during the 2008 flood when the city’s west side essentially became an island surrounded by floodwater, reachable only by boat or helicopter. In the event of an emergency, it would have taken several additional minutes to reach a victim and additional time to get them to a hospital.
Since this is a shift of available resources as opposed to an addition, there can be longer response times for some residents in northern Bartholomew County; but decisions on issues such as this have to be based in great part on the total number served.
As the realignment was just put into effect, there are no defining statistics by which to determine exactly how much time is saved in responding to emergencies as compared with the original alignment (the Fire Station 1 vehicle had been housed at Progress Drive off Indianapolis Road and the Fire Station 5 vehicle was stationed at the Jonesville Fire Department on County Road 450S).
However, response times, workload and zone boundaries used by the emergency dispatch center will be regularly monitored and recorded by a group of emergency officials, providing an opportunity to demonstrate the value of these moves. At that point, city and county residents should be better able to assess the effects and consider adjustments where possible.