Patient transports showing improvement, say hospital and ambulance officials
After five months of conversation and questions about patient transports from War Memorial Hospital, local ambulance, transport and hospital officials said last week they have seen improvements in response time and coordination among all parties when a local resident must be sent to another hospital for more care.
Morgan County Commission president Stacy Dugan asked the head of Valley Medical Transport, the company that does the majority of inter-hospital transfers here, for information about his company’s response time.
The discussion with Chris Rucker of Valley Medical Transport took place during August 18 commission meeting.
Rucker said their average response time, calculated from records over three years, was 48 minutes.
He said the longest response time was a little over two hours, and that was considered a low-priority transport.
“Our goal is to get to any immediate need within 60 minutes,” he said. For heart patients, his staff strives to respond within 30 minutes.
Dugan asked where the company’s ambulances are stationed and how many are available at any time.
Valley Medical keeps ambulances in Martinsburg, Berkeley Springs and Winchester, among other locations, Rucker said.
“At the busiest time, there can be 25 ambulances in service,” he said.
Kevin Duckwall, head of Morgan County Rescue Service, asked how many hours those ambulances are stationed locally.
Rucker estimated they are in Berkeley Springs 40 to 50 hours per week, either waiting for transports or traveling back from service.
“Is that a recent change? I don’t remember that in the past,” said Dugan, who works at the hospital.
“It’s not a change. The availability for transport and working relationship with the hospital has always been good,” said Rucker.
“You’ve brought attention to it and that’s improved things,” he said. “I’m pleased with the results. Shaving off 10 to 15 minutes is positive. That’s an important 15 minutes. There’s always room for improvement.”
Neil McLaughlin, president of War Memorial Hospital, agreed there is now better coordination on transports.
“It seems like things have improved,” said Commissioner Brad Close.
“We’ve been hearing positive comments,” Duckwall said.
Close suggested everyone meet again in six months to review the transport timing and services. The topic was placed on the agenda for the commissioners’ December 15 meeting.
Rescue squad budget
In related business, Dugan asked for an update from rescue squad officials about predicted budget shortfalls.
Financial officer Renea Stansburry said the squad has trouble collecting payment from patients who specify they want to go to a different hospital than War Memorial.
When patients request a different facility, they must sign a waiver saying they will pay for the additional transport costs.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to work that out with a collection company,” Dugan said.
Stansburry said several of the squad’s loans are now under review by area banks. They hope to get better interest rates.
She said the squad had recently seen a significant savings on their monthly health insurance bills because they had hired younger staff, dropping their premiums by a “few thousand” per month.
Close asked what the squad’s bad debt ratio is, compared to other ambulance services.
“It used to be 30 to 35%. Is it still that bad?” he asked.
Stansburry said she would get that figure.
Duckwall said at one point the rescue squad was collecting only 58% of its bills.
Private ambulance company
Richard Hamilton, of private ambulance company Mathias-Baker, told the
commissioners about his company. He had read and heard about the county’s
discussions regarding transports and ambulance service.
“If this project ever becomes a bidded project, we’d be very interested in it,” Hamilton said.
Mathias-Baker provides 911 service for 50% of Hardy County and all of Grant County, in addition to offering non-emergency transports throughout the multi-county area.
“We do all medical transports. Everything from giving someone a ride the doctor’s office to critical care transports,” Hamilton said.
His company also has bariatric transport services, with lifts capable of serving very large patients. Mathias-Baker also transports nursing home and dialysis patients. They have a few patients in Morgan County already.
Roughly half of Mathias-Baker’s 5,500 annual calls are non-emergency transports, Hamilton said.
Dugan asked a number of questions, including how the company handles Open Meeting laws and disclosure of employee salaries.
Hamilton said Mathias-Baker operates as a non-profit.
In response to questions from Close, he acknowledged that his company is being audited by Medicare. The audit was not initiated because of fraud, he said.
Dugan asked if Mathias-Baker has a problem with collections.
Hamilton said his company has a “little less than 25%” uncollected debt.