Officials with American Medical Response, the parent company of Lifeguard Ambulance, addressed concerns about response times during a Floyd County Fiscal Court meeting last week.
Alabama resident Josh Spencer, the regional director of operations for Lifeguard Ambulance in Kentucky and several states, told officials that, as a Knott County native, he’s “deeply committed to fixing these problems.”
“I just wanted to just kind of set the stage by letting you know that this is home, this is personal, it matters and we’re going to fix it,” he said.
Officials have complained about residents waiting 30 minutes to an hour or longer in some parts of Floyd County — a problem Lifeguard officials attribute to a lack of trained personnel.
The fiscal court addressed concerns about ambulance response times last month, with officials saying they would invite Lifeguard to a meeting to talk about the problems. Spencer came to the meeting alongside several other company officials and local first responders, including Wheelwright Fire Chief Daniel P. Gullett.
As Lifeguard officials previously reported, Spencer said the problem with ambulance response times locally is caused by a lack of personnel.
“This is not a Kentucky problem. This is not a Tennessee problem. This is a national shortage of EMS personnel,” Spencer said.
The company started an accelerated training program for emergency medical technicians on Monday. Spencer said 31 people are taking the class — one of several incentives Lifeguard is offering to recruit employees.
“It’s not, it’s not an overnight fix,” Spencer said. “We’ve been in the community now, as Lifeguard, for a little over five months, I think. There’s ebbs and flows in this community and we’re currently in one of those little — we’re in the valley a little bit right now.”
He reported that the company invested millions to purchase the former Trans Star Ambulance earlier this year, and reported the purchase of new trucks and equipment.
He pledged to be transparent with the fiscal court in the future, mentioning the possibility of Lifeguard officials attending meetings regularly.
“We want to be a partner in this community, not just a you call, we haul, that’s all kind of ambulance system,” he said. “We want to be a healthcare partner that really helps solve the issues.”
Judge-Executive Robbie Williams said it is “encouraging” that the company diverted employees from other areas to help in Floyd.
“That’s encouraging to me. I understand from a business standpoint, you know, you have a business to run,” he said. “I understand that. We are elected officials. We have to take care of our constituents and it’s a life or death situation, you know, if one person falls through the cracks, it’s a life or death situation. We certainly want to work with Lifeguard, to get everything lined out, get on track. We understand there’s obviously some personnel issues that have to be addressed, but we don’t want to throw you under the bus. We want to work with you. Let’s get it right, and let’s get it right as soon as possible.”
Bert Absher, director of operations for the company’s Eastern Kentucky branch, talked about the accelerated class that started Monday and other programs Lifeguard is offering to recruit employees. He said the new class will provide 31 employees who can staff 15 more ambulances, which will serve Floyd and other counties, and he said the company plans to partner with fire departments for training as well.
He also reported that Lifeguard stopped sending its Floyd County resources to cover hospital runs in Johnson County because it’s not the primary provider there.
“That was strategic and that was hard. We took a real black eye over there,” Absher said.
He also addressed concerns about response times in the Left Beaver area. Officials have been complaining about ambulance response times in that area of the county for years.
“The Left Beaver operation, we’re staffing the McDowell station as often as we can,” Absher said. “More often than not, that truck will go up there, and then we’ll drop to a high call volume situation here in the city, or out in the county, and have to bring that truck back.”
He and Spencer said Lifeguard ambulances are being staged in Martin and that managers have started picking up extra shifts to handle county calls. He said the company plans to hire employees to serve in “posting stations” throughout the county as well.