The Independent Citizens for Ambulance & Rescue Efficiency (I.C.A.R.E.), a group totaling “10 to 15 people” formed January 15 will be at the Clare County Commissioners meeting February 15 at 9 a.m. to voice their concerns over “response times to their calls for an ambulance during an emergency.”
“MMR units are sometimes dispatched from as far away as Farwell, Shepherd or Mt. Pleasant to cover our entire county,” the group claims.
I.C.A.R.E. Co -Chairs John Reppert and Judy Weber have personal reasons for their concerns. Judy lost her husband Paul, also Reppert’s brother-in-law, to a heart attack November 1 and she believes the 37 minutes it took for a Mobile Medical Response Ambulance to arrive may have contributed to his death.
“We found out later that the Ambulance got lost northwest of our home,” Weber said. “My husband called and gave detailed directions – we listened to the tape. They never called us back to tell us they were lost or to ask for further directions.” She said neighbors and family members watched the ambulance go by near their Arthur Township home without lights or a siren going before it finally arrived. By the time it did arrive, Paul had collapsed and a sister-in-law was performing CPR.
“We are not an isolated incident,” she continued. “There have been many other complaints.” She related several instances [in Clare County] where the ambulance from MMR arrived very late, “sometimes taking more than an hour, and sometimes not arriving at all.” Most times, she said, the person involved died.”
“We are trying to correct the problem,” she said, explaining the group. “We were told to organize and try and petition the county to make the situation right. There’s power in numbers.”
“It’s horrible what is going on,” Weber said, “People have a right to know that we don’t have the 911 service like we are supposed to have.” She suggested that MMR was called even when another ambulance, United Rescue, was closer to the scene. “It should be about saving lives, not about money or who gets the ambulance call.”
She continued, “We want people who have had a problem to come to the [county] meeting on the 15th. We have proof that they [MMR] have falsified records [about response times] and we have heard that this has happened to a lot of other people.”
In a press release, Co-Chair Reppert said, “I.C.A.R.E. wants to put an end to ambulances being lost, failing to call for directions, responding from far away locations, and people possibly dying while waiting for help.”
The press release continued, “These unfortunate problems are not isolated incidents. Numerous families have shared their experiences. The surviving family members are left with the unanswered question: If the ambulance would have arrived sooner, would my loved one have survived?”
Reppert said he and his sister-in-law Judy started checking into the death of Paul Weber. “The record showed a 13 second delay from when the call came in to when the ambulance was dispatched,” he said.
Weber said they obtained the records and discovered that 13 minutes was missing from the recorded details of the emergency call and ambulance run. “We have proof that they have been changing their numbers,” she said.
Since then many other people have contacted them about similar problems, she said.
Former MMR employee Dave Shuell agreed that MMR response times are not reported accurately on a recent WNEM-TV5 news interview. He called the numbers, “bogus” saying he had been told to falsify times on the reports when he worked there.
WNEM, who also interviewed Weber, reported a months-long investigation into MMR response times in Saginaw, where they are headquartered and have an exclusive agreement for service.
Shuell was asked to leave MMR employment in 2010, although he denied his statements had anything to do with the termination of his job.
Jason MacDonald, Director of Operations for MMR from the Mt. Pleasant office said Wednesday, “We offer our condolences to the family, but to say the ambulance contributed to that death is just not true.”
“These issues are the same ones that have been reported on and discussed several times in the past couple of years. They are being put out again in a different avenue with a lot of ‘hearsay’.”
He said, “Our run record is all part of the medical records. They can be accessed by a family member but the requests have to go through a HIPPA compliance officer because of privacy laws.
He added, “A 13 second response time is very good. We have a recorded average of 19 seconds for an ambulance to be dispatched.”
“Clare County has a policy of sending the closest ambulance out. MMR agrees with that policy.” MacDonald continued, “In a rural setting like Clare County, you are, on occasion you are going to have a longer response time.”
He said at least 80 percent of calls result in an ambulance response time of 12 minutes. “That’s the threshold in our contract,” he said, “but we can’t guarantee that 100 percent of the time. No ambulance contracts require that.”
Clare County 911 Director Keith Yats verified that the nearest ambulance is sent out on calls. He said a court case between the county and United Rescue Ambulance Service resulted in the elimination of segregated areas, named in a 2007 contract, for each ambulance service. “State law and the court says we have to dispatch the closest ambulance.”
He said the county uses a web system to pinpoint MMR ambulance locations and relies on verbal communication with United Rescue Service to determine their location. “The only way we can track United is by what they tell us,” he said.
Yats also said the way ambulances are dispatched is determined not by him, but by the Medical Control Authority, a group that, through MidMichigan Medical Center, oversees 911 dispatch, ambulance service, hospital services and emergency response services. Members on the board include representatives from MMMC-Clare, one from each ambulance service, representatives of fire departments, law enforcement, 911, Emergency Management and the Clare County Commission.
MacDonald explained the response procedure for MMR saying the company uses a website “Fleet Eyes” that the county can access showing them where every MMR ambulance is at.
He invited “anyone” to contact them to come to Saginaw and see the dispatch center and how it works. “We have six to eight people working all the time. Each call is handled by a “call taker” and a dispatcher. The dispatcher is sending the vehicle while the call taker is on the phone with a person. It is quite fast and efficient.”
MMR operates ambulance services in ten counties and manages a county-run system in an 11th county. They use a computer aided dispatch system (CAD). The Mt. Pleasant number is 1-989-0255.