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Ambulance Response Time Called into Question

A 20-minute wait is "unacceptable," paid EMS personnel "on the table," mayor says.

More than 20 minutes — that's how long it took for an ambulance to reach a near-centenarian who tripped and fell in front of the Post Office in East Hampton Village on Wednesday.

"It was really sad to see a 97-year-old gentleman lying on the cold, concrete ground," JB D'Santos said of the incident.

While D'Santos told the village board the man waited 25 minutes, and that the police department, which also responds to EMS calls, took 10, Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen said the first officer was on scene just 2 minutes after the call at 1:38 p.m. An ambulance arrived 21 minutes after the call, Larsen said, after reviewing the times.

D'Santos said he and a few others tried to comfort the bloodied, confused man until a Springs Fire Department ambulance made it to the post office, which is outside of the area it covers. Under a mutual aid agreement, neighboring ambulance services can respond to another jurisdiction when the home-ambulance needs help.

For this mid-day call, the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association — made up strictly of volunteer emergency medical technicians and drivers — did not have a full crew to treat the patient, who was ultimately transported to Southampton Hospital. D'Santos said a Springs EMT wanted a medevac helicopter to respond, but the weather prohibited its flight.

"I think we need to do something in relation to that," said D'Santos, who is a real estate agent who works in the village and a co-chair of the East Hampton/Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee. "If it had been a heart attack, he would have been gone."

"That's not acceptable," Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said of the time-lag. He told D'Santos the board would look into the issue, as the village board oversees the funding for the ambulance association, as well as the East Hampton Fire Department.

"We are looking into alternative ways to make it better," said East Hampton Village Ambulance Association Chief Mary Ellen McGuire. She agreed that it was unfortunate it took 20 minutes for an ambulance on Wednesday, but that one ambulance was out of the district.

Earlier that day, at about 10:45 a.m., her department responded to a call where the patient required a CATscan. The CATscan at Southampton Hospital was down, and the ambulance had to take the patient to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. It was three hours before they returned to the ambulance barn, she said.

The lack of volunteer EMS personnel available to answer all of the calls, particularly during the day, is not a new issue.

Larsen, who also heads the village's dispatching services, said it's an ongoing problem. "We've been dealing with it all summer long," he said.

With an ever growing number of calls, particularly on the South Fork, EMS leaders have had to look for ways to ensure calls are answered. One way was the mutual aid agreement, instituted nearly 10 years ago. Depending on the severity of a call, after two or three reactivations, a neighboring organization is called in.

East Hampton Volunteer Ambulance Association is the busiest EMS provider in the Town of East Hampton, answering 1,363 calls in 2012. In December alone, it was dispatched 88 times, 12 of which were for mutual aids to other districts.

Certain agencies, like East Hampton's ambulance, have squads at night. But, covering calls during the day, when many volunteers are working, has become increasingly difficult. It's a universal problem on the South Fork, Rickenbach said.

"We have nothing but gratitude for the effort and energy and time put forth by the volunteers," Rickenbach said, but he added, "We've got to make it better than it is."

EMS personnel in the Town of East Hampton have broached the subject of instituting some sort of paid system. Departments as far east as Southampton have had paid paramedics and EMTs on duty for several years. Asked whether he would support a paid system, Rickenbach said: "That's on the table. It may be something that's closer down the road than longer term," he said.

D'Santos also told the board that he was surprised the two village police officers who responded did not offer the man oxygen. Officers do carry oxygen tanks in their vehicles. Larsen checked with the responding officers on Friday afternon, and they said the man did not require oxygen.

Larsen added that all officers are trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Taylor K. Vecsey (Editor) January 19, 2013 at 03:07 AM
@ Peter — My experience is that because our volunteer EMS personnel do not do what they do for the praise, they rarely seek out the press. I have done stories about saves — though usually we hear about them through the police departments. Here's an example of one I remember: http://patch.com/A-cxSs We also have done other stories that shine light on the hard work and dedication of volunteers. But, please, if you have a story to share, I'm just an email away. I would love to do more of those types of stories.
John Bell January 19, 2013 at 03:11 AM
@ Cosmo- If they were trained, the gentleman would have received Oxygen. Confusion (altered mental status) is a sign of shock- How do you treat shock? Oxygen, rapid transport and or ALS. The latter 2 weren't available but the Oxygen was. A trained person would have known this. I never trust a COPS judgement. Kudos to our volunteers who have saved lives. I thought people volunteered because they wanted to help. Not to be written about in the media. At least thats why I do it a few hundred times a year. Every system has its flaws. Over time they need to be reviewed and updated.
JB D'Santos January 19, 2013 at 03:31 AM
I want people to know that I was not complaining of lack of professionalism or incompetence by volunteers from EMT. As a former volunteer fire fighter, I always tried to be the first one on the scene and to answer to as many calls as I could but just like the other volunteers, I had to go to work everyday and put in some eight hours... I said, we need to perhaps EMT police officers or fire fighters so in cases like this, we have someone available to respond to the call. We have a wonderful volunteer body but we need to think "outside" the box! And so I say, Pisgah!!!!
Bruce January 19, 2013 at 05:19 AM
From the photo deplicted above, I see an injured 97 year old man lying out on a sidewalk in rain and cold for 21 minutes, waiting for transportation to a medical facility. Whether a medical evaluation had been performed by the time the photo was taken, I do not know. However, I do agree with Mayor Rickenbach in that the situation is unacceptable. This is not the fault of the East Hampton Volunteer Ambulance asociation. The question arises, do you just want the patient transported to the nearest emergency care unit, being in this case, Southampton Hospital, or actual emergency care being given by EMT's at the scene, and during transport to the hospital. For the former, you could just hire drivers with no medical training; Circa 1960's. For the latter, a paramedic, P.A., or another clinical professionel could be hired to respond to the scene and make these evaluations on what action/s need to be taken.
Cosmo Kramer January 19, 2013 at 05:28 AM
Gee john, why'd you ever want to trust a cop? They are so untrained, so uneducated, and lack experience. I know how u feel...just being sarcastic of course. I'm sure the well trained, well educated officers didn't administer oxygen because he either didn't want it, or in their judgement, didn't need it. He clearly didn't have shock or he'd be in far worse shape than he is. Stop being so dramatic. I'm sure he was in pain and discomfort, and I hope he is ok. I hope this ambulance thing can be resolved. Thank god for all our first responders, they're lifesavers.
pat January 19, 2013 at 12:08 PM
Politicians who count on citizens with jobs to do jobs the government doesn't want to pay for should be kicked out of office. Volunteerism is difficult in an area where jobs can be hard to find, so maybe the government should CREATE some, and staff an EMS brigade. Don't complain about our wonderful volunteers.
not a farmer January 19, 2013 at 02:04 PM
deplicted is not a word Bruce.
keith smitty January 19, 2013 at 02:30 PM
Mr D' Santos has a lot to say , not only does he try stirring the s#* t at a village board meeting but most the info he gives is wrong . How about Mr D'Santos picking up an application to the ambulance or fire dept . Be part of the solution not the problem. All out volunteers are great and run constantly , but they need to make a living also, not every employer is going to allow an employee to leave every time the pager goes off . Maybe Mr D'Santos can check with his employer , or maybe he would be willing to give up a real estate " sale " in order to help someone .. ( yeah right ) . Stop being such a " stirrer " and be part of the solution . Good job EHV board to start looking at paid ambulance personnel . It's time , maybe before the summer !
eh January 19, 2013 at 02:59 PM
One issue that has not been mentioned - first responders have to have the legal ability to "treat and release" too often ambulance calls do not require transport but responders are not permitted to treat and not transport unless " the patient" refuses transport. this needs to change to make sure the dedicated volunteers and the ambulances are available for true emergencies. It is not a widely discussed topic but too many ambulances are forced to "roll" on non serious calls and even the most dedicated ( and they are very dedicated) ambulance corps will see fatigue and burnout. paid first responders may be a great idea, but they will need the trading and authority to treat and screen non serious calls
Not so sure January 19, 2013 at 03:15 PM
It doesn't sound like anyone is questioning the amazing service that our volunteers provide. They are our neighbors and are all amazing and selfless individuals that would give the shirt off their back without thinking twice. That being said, if more research were to be done regarding response times, 20 minutes wouldn't be so shocking. I heard Southampton EMTs respond to Springs a few months ago because they couldn't get a crew from anyone from the eastern departments. I hear re-activation after re-activation after mutual aid after mutual aid all the time on the scanner for as long as 40 minutes sometimes on a weekday. It's scary. This is not a dig at the volunteers, because it's not their fault. Volunteering does not pay the bills, and everyone knows that there are no shortage of bills. This is a problem that has been identified and needs to be solved quickly before someone suffers or dies because of a delay. Again, I commend the volunteers and do not have enough words to express my gratitude for what they do everyday, when most people are enjoying their days, oblivious to what sacrifices are made by these wonderful people.
Lady L January 19, 2013 at 05:22 PM
The only thing government creates is bureaucracies, taxes and more government jobs. Remember JFK's "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". I love the volunteer EMT's and firefighters, let us give service and not ask for more layers of taxpayer funded jobs. Work and volunteer work is a blessing to others and yourself.
Christine McDonald January 19, 2013 at 06:27 PM
I agree Chris, everyone is so quick to comment, but if there were no volunteers, there would be noone!!
Eastend50 January 19, 2013 at 07:30 PM
The caption on the photo says concerned onlookers and police shield 97 year old man from rain until arrival of an ambulance. Are we seeing the whole picture? Or is the photo misleading. I assume the EHV Ambulance Corp. has a first responder vehicle. A volunteer who can be on the scene in a couple minutes to administer first aid until the ambulance comes. Why is there no mention of a first responder vehicle in the story? 10, 15 and even 20 minutes waits are not unheard of around the country for an ambulance to arrive and take a patient to the hospital. That does not mean, the man was denied first aid at the scene. As the police chief noted, help was on the scene in a couple of minutes.
JB D'Santos January 19, 2013 at 07:54 PM
Talking about "stirring" up the pot, Keith - I once was a volunteer fire-fighter and resigned once my children were born - I did NOT criticize our volunteers - I suggested perhaps having a back up plan so in cases like this, we can have HELP right away - On the other hand, I can give you at least 10 names of elderly friends who rely on me and my children to not only visit them but also help them any way they need - Remember, Keith - America is all about "Pisgah" - Are you a volunteer?!?! Be well, my friend!
JB D'Santos January 19, 2013 at 08:02 PM
Friend, I know where to get an application as I once was a volunteer fire-fighter and resigned once my children came along - I did NOT criticize our volunteers - I suggested perhaps having a back up plan so in cases like this, we can have HELP right away - On the other hand, I can give you at least 10 names of elderly friends who rely on me and my children to not only visit them but also help them any way they need. Also, if you go by Main Beach and Georgica Beach from September through end of November, you'll see me every morning picking up the trash - best yet, on many Saturday afternoons, you'll see me and a number of children picking up trash along East Hampton streets - Remember, Bonac36 - America is all about "Pisgah" - Are you a volunteer?!?! Be well, my friend!
Quinten January 19, 2013 at 08:45 PM
A 20 minute wait for the ambulance is really not bad. In fact areas with paid EMS systems see an average waiting time of 45 minutes - 2hrs for the ambulance to arrive, with no first responders or police to arrive first and render aid. We have a great system in place in EH, police and first responders are often on scene within minutes tending to patients. Too many people abuse the ambulance with non-emergency calls and tie up valuable resources. Anyone who thinks the ambulance took too long should volunteer for their ambulance or FD.
Taylor K. Vecsey (Editor) January 19, 2013 at 09:20 PM
No first responder made it to the scene. The police reported the ambulance was the first of EMS personnel on scene. Not sure what you mean about the photo being misleading?
Eastend50 January 19, 2013 at 09:33 PM
Thanks Taylor. Where the photo was a tight shot, I did not know if one of the people aiding the elderly gentlemen might have been a first responder from the ambulance service as I could see no emergency vehicles in the photo. If as you say, the ambulance was the first EMS responders on the scene 21 minutes later, this is highly unusual as I always see some go directly to the scene. The village may very well have to go to paid if that is the case. As far as I know, the police in Suffolk County for the past 15 years are all EMT certified when they get out of the academy. I don't know if they keep up that EMT certification in East Hampton. As least the cop on the scene was certified in first aid to offer the gentlemen some medical attention.
Taylor K. Vecsey (Editor) January 19, 2013 at 09:39 PM
@EastEnd50 - You're welcome. Also, I don't believe that's true about all police being certified EMTs. Someone told me that new officers coming out of the new academy are, but I wasn't able to confirm that (will try during the week). The hours for the EMT course, and then the refresher they have to take each, have increased over the years. Volunteers really do deserve credit for so much, including for the time they sit in class!
Alwayslocal January 19, 2013 at 11:23 PM
Cosmo Kramer, if you are not an EMT, you really need to stop giving your "opinion" on here. If you are an EMT, god help us all because you don't know what you are talking about. Shock, a 97 year old man laying in the rain , bleeding and cold, I would better a million dollars that, that more man was absolutely showing signs of shock. Sign and symptoms, and mechanism of injury. All speak for them selves. And I am a volunteer, so I have every right to voice my opinion. Do a little home work before you verbally vomit all over this topic!
Evan Rofheart January 20, 2013 at 02:04 PM
A private ambulance service should have been used to transport the hospital CAR scan, that was not an emergency in Easy Hampton. I used to be an EMT on the East End, and we used to do these transports for our well connected friends all the time.
Peter January 20, 2013 at 04:59 PM
@Evan - my understanding of the article is that the decision was made during transport that the pt needed a CAT scan. That may have been by the medical director in discussions with the tech. And therefore, a private ambulance is out of the question. @Emily Bee - volunteers do what they do for love of their community, not so called benefits. Their are many retirees out here who readily volunteer and be available for day calls, with no need for inducements. However, I do realize volunteering as an EMT is not for everyone. If you offer benefits just to get ppl in the door, the question arises as to whether you will get the dedication needed to serve.
pat January 21, 2013 at 12:04 PM
Volunteers should be rewarded for their time in some way because the work they do is so valuable to the community. Governments can take advantage of such volunteerism by not compensating them, then giving a tax break to those who don't need it. As you get older, you notice that those in power frequently invoke the volunteerism ethic to justify slashing jobs. Volunteerism is a wonderful thing, but it shouldn't be taken for granted.
TTTT January 21, 2013 at 03:24 PM
I have to throw in huge kudos to the police and EMT crew who came quickly to my aid to our house on Thanksgiving 2011...I barely remember what happened but with chest pains and severe vertigo they were prompt, caring, efficient and totally on the ball. They took me to Southampton Hospital where I was taken care of by an equally wonderful staff...on a holiday! If the population and number of calls has dramatically grown to the point where we need a paid crew, then the priority has to be made for the public's safety and well being. And people need.to be educated not to use a ambulance as a taxi ...you can't blame the public for not volunteering...people have other jobs and not everyone is cut out to be an EMT! dramagically
ViralGrain January 22, 2013 at 12:05 AM
We need to formulate something. Their is serious talk about South Hampton Hospital being moved to where the college used to be. On papper it doesn't look that much further but when you take into consideration the increase of traffic in both the winter and summer, road construction, a larger population that is only seeming to grow, and a current response time compromised by these and other variables, somethings need to be done. A bad situation can go catastrophic very quickly in a emergency situation. I think Stony Brook needs to work with us and comunicate a successful medical transport and treatment plan. As one of the wealthiest towns in America we should have top-notch medical. Just an idea... Since the LIRR's service is far and few in between when they operate out here, and the tracks run directly next to the proposed new sight for where Stony Brook wants to move the facility too, what about utilizing those tracks for a medical transport shuttle? Something like that will help response time, optimize triage, keep the ambulances more in the community to responde when multiple calls hit. And get the patient to a treatment facility faster. Just an idea.... Sure one of you will criticize it. I bet its cheaper then running a chopper. Weather is less of a factor and the tracks are already laid.
Taylor K. Vecsey (Editor) January 24, 2013 at 02:15 AM
Here is a follow-up story to this article: http://patch.com/A-1tSn
Rick Hoyt January 24, 2013 at 06:12 AM
The Ambulance Personnel are the Most Selfless and Dedicated in Our Community ! Of Course I'm Biased, as I Am Extremely Proud Of My Son Ian ! Who is in The EH Ambulance - He's "All In", He Loves what He Does.Emily Bee Is Correct, Healthcare and a Pension Component, as Per The FD Would a Great Idea.Also Maybe a Fee To Use The Ambulance, On a Sliding Scale to Not Hurt Our Seniors on a Fixed Income.This Could Help With Costs.
Moved Away January 28, 2013 at 08:26 PM
Good luck everybody!
eh January 29, 2013 at 01:20 PM
This is an excellent idea, and has not been proposed to the Village - it would be more of a motivator than the retirement incentive, as long as the program ran while the member maintains their annual call quota - this is something new - has great possibilities for attracting younger members as well as older.
Taylor K. Vecsey (Editor) March 21, 2013 at 11:46 PM
Here is a follow up to this story, everyone: http://patch.com/A-2PgM

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