On Tuesday the Vernon Parish Police Jury held an executive session at the committee meeting to address concerns about Acadian Ambulance Service response times and the number of units currently being used in Vernon Parish.
First responders from several parish fire departments sat alongside EMT's and paramedics from Acadian and Med Express in a packed room each eager to have their voice heard.
On multiple occasions over the last several years, residents in different parts of the parish who have called 911 needing ambulance assistance have had to wait anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half for an ambulance to arrive.
Anja West, a volunteer with the Slagle Volunteer Fire and Rescue, told the jury how concerned she is for the residents of Slagle, especially the elderly residents, "who would rather risk their own lives, and that of others, to drive to town for medical attention instead of waiting for the ambulance from Acadian Ambulance Service to arrive."
West states that residents of Hicks "seldom call 911 requesting an ambulance as well. One resident waited one hour and forty-five minutes after calling 911 before driving to the hospital herself."
Recently a friend of West’s who lives on Ford Stewart Road suffered a stroke.
Immediately after 911 was called to dispatch an ambulance West was called to assist her friend with her dog.
West left Slagle heading to Ford Stewart Road without running emergency lights and beat the ambulance to the scene.
Personnel from Anacoco Volunteer Fire Department told the jury how "Acadian personnel recently refused to drive down Parish Road to reach a patient because it was wet.”
A volunteer from the department then drove down the road and brought the patient to the ambulance on the main road.
Fortunately, this incident was not serious, but what if it had?
Another volunteer, from SundownVolunteer Fire Department, shared his concerns for his personal safety during the hot summer days that if he needs an ambulance one will not arrive in time.
West and the other departments are all quick to praise the EMT's and paramedics who work for Acadian stating that, "They are doing a good job, they are good medics."
However, they are all concerned that when Acadian transports patients from within Vernon Parish to locations outside of the parish they are eliminating a unit to service the residents of the parish. All of them are adamant that, "Something has got to give, they need to do better and we can't keep doing this."
Suggestions made by fire department personnel were for Acadian to bring in another ambulance unit to service the parish on a regular basis or that Med Express be allowed to work side-by-side with Acadian to service the residents of Vernon Parish.
Paul Fuselier, Community and Government Relations Manager with Acadian says that the number of units assigned to Vernon Parish is not based on the number of residents in the parish.
They assign units based on the necessity of the service and patient volume. Vernon Parish has an average of 14 calls a day that need ambulance transport.
In order for Acadian, and any other privately owned ambulance service, to make a profit they need to transport patients.
This is often a challenge when 73 percent of the patients they transport hold Medicare and Medicaid insurance who pay the ambulance a fixed rate, which is normally below market value.
Private insurance holders make up 13 percent of their patient base who, once again, pay a negotiated contract rate.
Seven percent of the patients Acadian transports in Vernon Parish are hospital or other patient transfers that are also contracted rates.
Eight percent of the patients transported in Vernon Parish are self-pay and the majority of them will can't, or won't pay the bill for a variety of reasons.
There are two units assigned to Vernon Parish during the day and one at night. However, Acadian closely monitors the patient volume and will increase or decrease units based on need.
If additional units are needed in Vernon Parish units from Rapides, Allen and Beauregard Parishes will respond.
One step Acadian has done to eliminate response times when Vernon Parish is down to one unit is another Acadian unit will stage in Pickering, ready to respond to a call in both Vernon and Beauregard Parishes. This practice is done company wide across 33 parishes in Louisiana.
Fuselier admits that there have been some patients who have waited longer than average for an ambulance to respond and the reason for the wait could be that both units are tied up, or they are taking a transport out of the parish and a unit from a neighboring parish is en route.
The average response time parish-wide for Acadian during the first half of 2017 was 13:48. Their response time increased to 14:09 in the second half of 2017.
From January 2018 through October their response time decreased to 13:43. Approximately 70 percent of the calls they respond to are in the Leesville and surrounding area. They focus their resources where statistically the most calls will occur.
Fuselier says that he appreciates the criticism he receives from the fire department volunteers because if they believe they are not getting a good service, Acadian needs to address it and find a solution.
One solution that has been suggested has been to bring in an additional ambulance service.
Tyler Martin, Director of Operations for Med Express states that "Vernon Parish is grossly under-serviced, particularly at night when Acadian drops to one unit."
They are requesting that the Police Jury allow Med Express to service the parish and be put on the 911 rotation list.
Or, if the Police Jury is no longer happy with the service currently being provided by Acadian to award Med Express sole provider-ship of the parish.
Med Express is willing to provide four units to cover the parish if Acadian pulls their services from the parish.
Med Express has one unit stationed in Leesville on standby ready to respond if called upon.
However, since they are not on the 911 rotation list, operators will not dispatch them to provide ambulance service unless they are specifically requested by a responding officer, deputy or firefighter. During the last week, Med Express has responded to eight calls in Vernon Parish that Acadian was unable to service.
On one of those calls, the responding firefighter asked for the e.t.a of the Acadian unit and was told it was coming from Lake Charles. The firefighter then asked for the Med Express unit to be dispatched.
Executives from both ambulance service providers were given an opportunity to speak before the jury during the committee meeting.
Additional information has been requested from both providers and once it has been thoroughly reviewed the Vernon Parish Police Jury will come to a resolution that is best for the health and safety of the parish residents.
Currently, there are no ordinances in place requiring a specific number of ambulance units that must be readily available in the parish. Furthermore, Vernon Parish does not currently have a contract in place with Acadian to provide ambulance service to the parish. Concerned residents are encouraged to call their district representatives to have your voice heard.
Until a resolution is found, in the event of an emergency and a unit from Acadian is not available, Tyler Martin suggests that first responders request a Med Express unit be dispatched by the 911 operator.