County: Company not OKd

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 5, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; The ambulance company that arrived to a Sunday night distress call 40 minutes late &8212; too late to help &8212; was not authorized by the county.

At approximately 8:43 p.m. Sunday, emergency dispatchers received a call that Willie Coulston, a Lower Woodville Road resident, had collapsed and needed an ambulance.

Dispatchers called the next service in the rotation, Metro Rural Services. Since Metro didn&8217;t have an ambulance available at that time, the company called Emergystat to handle the call.

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Coulston died before the Emergystat ambulance arrived.

Emergystat is no longer on the county&8217;s rotation of ambulances because it took itself off in January.

&8220;They told me (at that time) that they didn&8217;t have the personnel to take any calls, 911 or private,&8221; Emergency Management Director George Souderes said. &8220;And I&8217;ve gone by their office once a week since then, and their door is locked, so I was assuming they weren&8217;t taking any calls.&8221;

The county&8217;s dispatching center &8212; which receives all 911 calls &8212; only sends calls to companies on the rotation. Private citizens, however, can still request a company not on dispatch&8217;s rotation.

After the call from Metro, Emergystat&8217;s ambulance got lost on Lower Woodville Road, finally arriving at Coulston&8217;s residence 40 minutes later.

&8220;When we got the (911) call, we knew our ambulance would be (occupied) for another five minutes, so we called Emergystat,&8221; said Jim Graves of Metro Rural.

&8220;We hadn&8217;t been notified Emergystat was off the 911 rotation,&8221; Graves said, adding that as far as calling Emergystat to take care of calls is concerned, &8220;we won&8217;t be doing that again.&8221;

Dispatchers handled the call correctly, making sure Metro was notified, Souderes and Police Chief Mike Mullins confirmed.

Souderes said one ambulance company calling another to handle a call is an established practice among the area&8217;s ambulance providers.

&8220;Except AMR, which just refuses the call, in which case it goes to the next company in the rotation,&8221; Souderes said, referring to American Medical Response, the county&8217;s third ambulance provider.

But under the current policy, the county&8217;s 911 Board cannot take any action in Sunday night&8217;s case.

Souderes said he would be in favor of requiring an ambulance company to refuse a call if it can&8217;t handle it.

&8220;That would have to be done as part of the ordinance,&8221; Souderes said.

County supervisors have directed County Attorney Bob Latham to draft an ordinance that would spell out what criteria ambulance companies would have to meet to become part of the countywide ambulance rotation.

Personnel at Emergystat&8217;s Vernon, Ala.-based headquarters would not comment when contacted Tuesday.