EMS service calls explode in May
By Kathryn Purcell
Last month set records for Morgan County Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
EMS normally answers an average of 180 calls per month in Morgan County, according to Huey Atkins, director of Morgan County EMS. Last month, the organization answered 230 calls.
Atkins, however, isn't able to attribute the call increase to any one factor.
"There are days with 15 calls where we run four ambulances, and there are days we don't run ambulances anywhere in Morgan County," Atkins said.
Morgan County EMS runs two full-time stations, out of Madison and out of Fairplay, and an ambulance, staffed with two to three employees, is sent based on a dispatch from the county's 911 call center. The average response time within Madison is less than eight minutes, and less than 10 minutes in the outlying county.
Once the ambulance has arrived, a decision is made about the state of the patient and how far they can be transported.
"Based on what they find and what the patients want, the determination is made as to what hospital they go to," Atkins said. "[The decision is] based on where the patients want to go and whether the crew feels they can make it safely there or not."
Morgan County EMS takes residents to Morgan Memorial Hospital, primarily, as well as hospitals in Newton, Walton and Putnam counties and Rockdale, Greensboro and Athens.
Morgan Memorial is able to treat, or stabilize, the majority of patients' ailments, the exception being blatant orthopedic fractures, as Morgan Memorial doesn't staff an orthopedist at all times, according to Atkins. The most common calls Morgan County EMS gets have to do with "difficulty breathing" or accidents. "Difficulty breathing" is typical of a patient with asthma or can indicate a heart attack.
More patients are choosing to be transported to Morgan Memorial, according to Atkins. However, Morgan County EMS still has patients, sometimes at great risk, that ask to be transported elsewhere.
"If the patient still refuses [to be taken to Morgan Memorial], we contact a physician at Morgan Memorial," Atkins said. "The physician does have the authority to override the patient. Just about all we do, we have to operate under the rules and regulations of the state and decisions of physicians...We do not force people to go to Morgan Memorial, but there are parameters we have to operate under."
Many of the patients cared for and transported by Morgan County EMS are insured through Medicare or Medicaid, according to Atkins. State criteria requires that these patients be taken to the nearest state-approved hospital.
Patients insured through Medicare, however, have the option of being taken to a farther hospital, according to Atkins. In order to do so, an acknowledgment that the patient may incur payment for a portion of the ambulance bill must be signed by the patient.
According to Atkins, the cost for a Morgan County EMS ambulance comes to $525 plus a mileage charge.
The majority, 75 percent, of funding for Morgan County EMS comes from this fee for service. The other 25 percent comes from a county subsidy, even though EMS isn't a mandated public service, like fire departments or law enforcement, according to Atkins. Further, given the current market for fuel, the county subsidy also includes an agreement that provides gas for the ambulances.
Morgan County EMS, a division of Georgia-based National Emergency Services, Inc., was established in the county in 1988. In 1993, Morgan County EMS became one of the first accredited ambulance services in the state, one of 19 in the country at the time.
Currently, Morgan County EMS is one of three in the state with accreditation.
"We are trying to assure the communities that we're in that we're trying to provide a quality service," Atkins said.
Morgan County EMS, presently located in Madison across from Ingles, will soon be moved to the county's public safety facility, which will also house the 911 call center, the county's jail and the Morgan County Sheriff's Office.