EMS ambulance

In an emergency seconds count, yet when something happens, an already short-staffed Emergency Medical Service could be tied up with illegitimate calls.

Director of Coffee County EMS Michael Bonner said that about 90% of the calls the department receives aren’t actual emergencies, but are legitimate calls.

A bed-confined patient that needs to be transported to the hospital would be a non-emergency, legitimate call.

It’s the calls that never needed an ambulance in the first place, Bonner said, that are the problematic ones.

“Those are the ones that are just tying us up,” he said.

Oftentimes, an ambulance responds to a non-legitimate call to find a wealth of friends or family standing around with several cars in the driveway, when they could have taken the non-emergency patient to the hospital. This takes an ambulance out of service -- an ambulance that could be needed to respond to a life-threatening condition elsewhere.

“We (in Coffee County) and nationwide have a shortage of EMS employees,” Bonner said. “When you're running 40 calls in a day and you only have three ambulances - what about the guy having a heart attack who’s having to wait to have an ambulance come from across the county?” Bonner asked.  “Did we do the citizens justice? Did we do the best thing for the masses?”

One reason that patients might call an ambulance rather than take a personal vehicle to the hospital is the mistaken belief that an ambulance transport call would grant them priority in the emergency room. While this was once the case, now patients are triaged by care needed. Patients who arrive via ambulance but aren’t true emergency cases will likely find themselves in a wheelchair in the waiting room.

“If they call, we have to go. If they say I want you to take me to the hospital, we have to take them,” Bonner said.