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of Clare County

BOC Holds Hearing to Clarify Ambulance Issues

First Responders, Citizens Bring Positive and Negative Commentary


HARRISON – At various meetings of the Clare County Board of Commissioners, comments have been made regarding ambulance service within the county – pretty much always by way of complaining about response times. At its January meeting, the Board reinstituted its Committee of the Whole, and slated for its Feb. 7 meeting a public hearing on ambulance service concerns.

Starting off that meeting, Administrator Lori Phelps clarified that it was to be an informational meeting – a problem-solving session, not a finger-pointing session. As the agenda stated: This meeting is to discuss emergency medical services and the challenges facing rural Clare County. We will be focusing on productive dialogue and attempt to collect information and problem solve.

“The problems we face in the county are not the Board of Commissioners’ fault,” Phelps said. “They are not MMR’s fault. They are not the Medical Control Board’s fault. This is an informational meeting so the Board of Commissioners can hear from residents so they can decide if they want to consider supplemental funding by way of a millage, or not.”

She clearly stated that no decisions would be made that day. Phelps also provided a short list of talking points about some rural challenges in the state of Michigan, to include: Paramedic shortage, EMT recruitment and retention; Ambulance misuse and abuse; Insufficient payment of insurers; Rural counties’ long distance, challenging terrain, prolonged emergency response; and specifically the absence of supplemental funding to assist ambulance services in Clare County.

“We’re here because we feel it’s taking too long for response, for the ambulance to get to anybody who needs it,” said Jeff Haskell, BOC chair. “One of the issues is we don’t have any dedicated coverage to the county.”

Phelps added that the county gets a lot of phone calls asking why isn’t there something being done about the problem, and why it’s not caring about the residents. She explained that it is not a County issue or MMR’s issue or the Medical Control Board’s issue, but simply an issue being faced in Clare County.

There was audience comment regarding the long wait times for ambulance service, and suggestion about entering into a contract with MMR, or possibly establishing an ambulance response capability through the county’s fire departments.

The fire chiefs in attendance pointed out that minimal fire protection funding and/or staffing shortages speak to the impracticality of trying to maintain simultaneously both a fire department and an ambulance service.

Phelps said most counties in Michigan have supplemental dollars, a millage, and contractor service. She said that where counties don’t have a millage, then there are townships that have a separate millages and form an authority of multiple townships. One has a millage and its own service, but it was established long ago, prior to the current high-cost to establish one – that staff functions as county employees.

“They have four units they do in their county,” Phelps said. “But they still have to do out-of-county transport in order to support their program – and that’s a county-run ambulance service.”

The hearing pulled in a full house of residents, township governance, law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders. In attendance from Mobile Medical Response Ambulance Service were Eric Snidersich, vice president of operations; Brett Hansen, operations manager; and Laurie Thiel, CEO. Also present was Glenn King, Med Control Authority Board chair.

The first audience member to stand was an EMT from Greenwood Township who pointed out the distinction between the providers such as himself and the service which is the ambulance company. He noted that via a scanner app, he has heard ambulance calls coming from Midland, Ithaca and Alma for cardiac arrests in Clare County, and went on to describe how difficult it is for lay people to do CPR adequately for as long as necessary. He equated that to the need for quick response times, which he said means a need for four or five ambulances in the county: one transport/basic unit unless it requires a paramedic, and four advanced units with a paramedic onboard. He went on to describe the call times he has listened to as “scary.” He also read a letter from a patient who had experienced chest pains in Harrison, been checked out by an ambulance crew who found his vitals to be normal. Being cautious, the ambulance transported him to Gladwin for observation, and on the way he experienced cardiac arrest. After being stabilized, he was rerouted to Midland. Expressing his gratitude, that patient also noted that if there had been another emergent call at the time, he might not have been so lucky, and went on to say he believed an ambulance should be stationed in Harrison.

He then said the providers are “kick-ass – awesome people” and that the service is what there’s a problem with.

Snidersich spoke at length to the assemblage regarding how the units are distributed, and the extensive dispatch system that sorts and assigns responses. He also spoke of what some would call ambulance misuse/abuse such as when someone calls an ambulance as last-resort transportation to see a physician. He also noted the annual cost to operate one unit as $400,000.

There was a good deal of discussion, describing perceived wrongs of the past, shortcomings of the present, and the need to get beyond that to find some solutions which would better serve Clare County residents.

This is not a one-and-done issue for the county or MMR, and it was established that a quarterly meeting will take place to continue exploring solutions. In closing out the meeting, Haskell focused on the fact that the day’s meeting was just a beginning.

“Hopefully this is all something the committee we’re forming will have answers to down the road,” he said. “It’s not going to be fixed in one month, but I think we’re on the right track.”

© Clare County Cleaver


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