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EMSA leader defends ambulance service's response times


By Kevin Canfield, Tulsa World, Okla.

Feb. 15-- EMSA CEO Steve Williamson defended his organization's response times Thursday, telling city councilors that citizens of Tulsa have a world-class ambulance service.

"There are always going to be some (calls) that will not be within the response time," Williamson said. "To keep that from happening you would have to overstaff by 150, 135 percent to meet all demand regardless of the blips in service levels."

Williamson said no city in the country could afford to do that.

"We do everything possible. That is why they are reaching the response time standard of over 90 percent," he said.

Williamson was invited to speak at the councilors' Thursday afternoon committee meeting by Councilor Karen Gilbert, who said her constituents' No. 1 complaint about EMSA's service is delayed responses.

The Tulsa World reported on Thursday that EMSA's figures show that ambulances were delayed in responding to at least 80 calls so far this year.

An earlier report indicated that ambulances were delayed to calls involving heart attacks, breathing problems, car accidents, seizures, suicide attempts and other serious medical conditions, according to records.

But Williamson told Gilbert that "there aren't delayed response times."

He said that under EMSA's contract with the city, EMSA is required to meet 90 percent of Priority 1 calls within 8 minutes and 59 seconds and that that standard is being met.

The reported delayed calls "are all under the 10 percent that is allowed under the contract," Williamson said.

He noted that Paramedics Plus, which EMSA pays to provide ambulance service, has never gone "into breach" of agreement for failing to meet the response-time standards set out in its agreement.

He also noted that EMSA's dispatch center is one of 150 or so that have received international accreditation. That, Williamson said, speaks to the fact that "they are asking the right questions and directing the ambulance to the most critical care first."

Fire Chief Ray Driskell has said previously that he has been working with Williamson to obtain better data and information from EMSA.

On Thursday, Williamson described a positive relationship between EMSA and the Fire Department.

He said he met recently with the fire chief to clarify information transmitted over dispatch screens and said EMSA is going to purchase another screen to track ambulances' locations.

"We have done things to the tune of $8 million we have paid, including their CAD (computer automated design) system, so we can communicate better," Williamson said.

The CAD system, which cost more than $500,000 and was purchased by EMSA at least a year ago, has not been installed because the city has had problems with the vendor who would install it, City Manager Jim Twombly told councilors.

"We had scheduled implementation for last fall, and we had scheduled another implementation for March, and both of those were delayed," Twombly said.

Once installed, the CAD system would allow police, firefighters and EMSA to see the same thing at the same time, Twombly said.

Gilbert called the delay "insane" and said the residents of Tulsa deserve better.

Williamson said residents always deserve better but that as the intricacies of the EMSA system are discussed it is important for residents to know that the service is "world-class in clinical response, response time, reliability and outcome."

Councilor Phil Lakin, who is also an EMSA trustee, pulled up EMSA's website on his computer during Thursday's discussion and encouraged residents to do the same.

He noted, for example, that in December 91 percent of Priority 1 calls were responded to within the required time and 97 percent of Priority 2 calls were responded to within the required time.

"The (EMSA) board spends a lot of time looking at this and monitoring it," he said.

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©2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)

Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at www.tulsaworld.com

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