Town residents deserve explanation on why response time deficits have been ignored
The reliability of the emergency medical services provided to Woodbridge has come under scrutiny. Initially, concerns were raised when an American Medical Response ambulance took 23 minutes to respond to a medical call. Closer examination of AMR's overall record for 2007, however, revealed that ambulance response times to life-threatening emergencies were deficient, only meeting the contractual requirements 87 percent of the time.
Woodbridge has received emergency services from AMR since December 2001. AMR provides a paramedic and ambulance transport. Although the paramedic is stationed in town, ambulance support is regionalized. No one ambulance is devoted to Woodbridge, but instead, ambulance coverage is provided from a flotilla of ambulances that circulate in the Greater New Haven area.
Of note, services provided by the paramedic, who is located in town, have consistently been above expectations, whereas ambulance transport for priority 1 (life-threatening) calls did not meet expectations for nine of the first 11 months in 2007.
Prior to 2001, the town had its own Emergency Medical Service unit, with ambulances located in town. According to published information, the local EMS response times were in the 6-minute range.
Despite those response times, the decision to switch to AMR was prompted because of financial concerns. Those concerns were of such magnitude, apparently, that the town rushed to disband the local ambulance unit and sign up with AMR in the span of 24 hours.
When the town switched to AMR, Amey Marrella, the former first selectwoman, assured residents that they would receive the same quality of emergency services despite the switch. In fact, the town established an Emergency Medical Service Commission to ensure that the town had adequate emergency coverage.
Although the EMS Commission meets quarterly, the deficient AMR response times for 2007 were overlooked. Minutes from the meetings reflect that statistics were reviewed, but any deficiencies were not noted.
Those in favor of regionalized ambulance services stress that the paramedic is on scene for emergencies quickly. The paramedic is trained in advanced life support, an essential resource in an emergency. However, the paramedic is not equipped to transport patients. Without rapid transport, especially in priority 1 cases, the emergency plan leaves a glaring shortfall.
No amount of pre-hospital care can provide the services available in the hospital. Seriously ill patients need rapid access to the diagnostic tools and interventions that can only be provided in-house. In many cases, instituting these therapies, such as clot-dissolving drugs, has a dramatic effect on outcome. And the sooner, the better.
Until the advantages of the hospital can be mobilized via ambulance and paramedic, there needs to be sufficient stress on the second half of the emergency care equation: rapid transport. This has been lacking in the current service provided. Town officials need to address the problem and ensure that ambulance service meets the needs of the citizens.
The residents of Woodbridge deserve that which was promised in the AMR contract: "the fastest response and highest quality emergency medical services."