Ambulance fee disputed over transport policy
Randy Fischer doesn’t see why he should pay Morgan County’s ambulance fee.
Three years ago, when he needed a local ambulance to transport him from War Memorial Hospital to Winchester Medical Center to reverse a deadly heart blockage, Morgan County Rescue Service didn’t come for him.
Instead, he waited until a private ambulance company was available to pick him up, more than two hours into his cardiac event.
Fischer said his doctors at War Memorial told him they couldn’t do anything here to clear his 100% cardiac blockage, and he would have to go to Winchester.
The helicopter they sought for him couldn’t fly because of weather conditions. The private ambulance was in Martinsburg on a transport.
He asked why his own county’s rescue squad couldn’t take care of him.
No license to transport
In 2007, the Morgan County Rescue Service stopped doing transports -- the term for moving a patient from one medical facility to another.
According to squad board member Bob Dugan, Morgan County Rescue Service no longer even has the license required by the state to do transports.
Dugan spoke to the Morgan County Commissioners at their March 17 meeting, where Fischer brought up his concerns.
The decision to stop doing transports hasn’t been popular. But Dugan said keeping to 911 emergency calls has been a way to make sure Morgan County has 24-hour ambulance coverage.
Before, carrying a patient from War Memorial to Winchester or Martinsburg would take a two or three-member ambulance crew out of the county for several hours.
That meant leaving county residents at risk of not having an ambulance in case of multiple accidents or medical emergencies.
Fischer said he had a hard time accepting the idea that a local ambulance crew was sitting at the rescue squad building waiting for a call while he lay up at the hospital, waiting for someone to take him to a hospital that could save his life.
“Do we wait for an auto accident and meanwhile let a man die up at the hospital? I’d say not,” Fischer said.
“If they’d have picked me up at my house, they would have taken me to Winchester,” he noted.
Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson questioned Dugan, asking if the squad has a written protocol about transports. He said they do.
Hutchinson urged Fischer to seek out his medical records and learn more about his doctor’s orders three years ago.
More staff, more miles Dugan said the squad simply isn’t licensed to do the kind of transport that Fischer would have needed.
The problem with transports, Dugan said, is that they require additional crews and equipment and put a lot of miles on local ambulances.
He didn’t know how much it would cost for Morgan County Rescue Service to get a transport license and build up its staff to perform that service.
“I’m proud of our rescue squad. I think they need help. We need to start somewhere -- whether it’s raising $10 on each county home or something,” said Fischer.
The current ambulance fee of $75 is assessed on every household in Morgan County as a way to fund the Morgan County Rescue Service and the rescue portion of the Paw Paw Fire & Rescue Company.
Unlike the previous rescue squad subscription fee, the county ambulance fee doesn’t entitle county residents to free ambulance
services. Residents or their insurance companies are still billed if they require an ambulance.
Instead, the fee is meant to cover the basic costs of keeping an emergency service available 24 hours a day in Morgan County.
Fischer suggested the squad could provide transports to county residents without having to do nursing home transports inside the county.
Commission President Stacy Dugan disagreed. She said the transport issue has been a problem for some local families with loved ones at nursing homes.
Commissioner Brad Close said he’d like to talk to Valley Health to find out what their transport policy will be once their new hospital opens. Valley Health operates its own transport equipment.
Close said resuming facility-to-facility transports could be a way for the rescue squad to generate funds, but it wasn’t fair to discuss the idea without realistic financial estimates and information.
Fischer told county officials he was refusing to pay the $75 ambulance fee for the previous two years, but would pay it for this year.
Close acknowledged Fischer’s frustrations, but encouraged him to pay the fee.