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Alarm sounded over ambulance delays

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County, city working on solution to emergency response

  • Alarm sounded over ambulance delays

For the past 20 years, Jones County has had the benefit of 24/7 ambulance service, and for most of that time the ambulance has been staged in the city limits of Gray.

The first ambulance was actually posted in Gray May 1, 2000.

Last week, Gray City Council members and Jones County Board Commissioners both heard problems that have arisen with the response time of the ambulance service.

While COVID-19 is no doubt responsible for added disinfection of the ambulances between calls, after more than four months of dealing with the virus, that cannot be the only issue.

Gray Police Chief Adam Lowe told city council members at their July 6 meeting that he was concerned that response times for the ambulances were an hour or more and Jones County Rescue was not responding.

Jones County Commissioners listened to a firsthand report from Justin Newman July 7. He told them about waiting 45 minutes for an ambulance after his grandfather had suffered a stroke.

Tony Brown, who is over the ambulance service for Navicent Health Medical Center, referred the call from this reporter to public relations director Megan Allen, and she did not return the call.

Brown did, however, speak with Jones County Commissioner Chairman Chris Weidner. The chairman was told that the problem included the additional disinfection times and the additional number of calls that had been received.

Jones County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Barbara Burnett is over Jones County’s 911 service. She said 911 had received 1,336 calls this year, and 663 of the calls were not answered by Jones County Rescue.

The chief pointed out, however, that Jones County Rescue is totally made up of volunteers.

Burnett said Navicent receives an actual phone call from Jones County 911 when an ambulance is needed.

“They never tell us an ambulance is not coming, but we are told where we are on the response list,” she said.

Jones County Emergency Management Director Don Graham first addressed the response of rescue volunteers. He pointed out that not all 911 calls are emergencies, and many of the calls are requests for services like lift assists.

Graham pointed out that, while a paid firefighter is on duty in the county, the rescue calls are answered 100 percent of the time. He said after hours the response is 50 to 60 percent.

The director went on to say he is aware of the ambulance response problem. He said he recently received a call from a member of the fire department who told him that 911 was called because of someone having chest pains, and it took over 40 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. The director said that is not acceptable.

Graham said, when Navicent made the decision to no longer allow ambulance personnel to be staged and required them to be mobile at all times, there have been more delays in response time.

“They have to be in the road all the time. We know there is a problem,” he said.

The director said ambulance response time is the most pressing issue. He said, if Navicent cannot respond, another ambulance service should be called. That is also the responsibility of Navicent because of Jones County’s contract with the service.

“Fifteen to 30 minutes is forever to wait for an ambulance. The average national response time is 15-16 minutes,” Graham said. “If you call 911, you need to be served.”

Weidner said a meeting is scheduled July 14 with the parties involved, and a solution would be found.