Hospital's EMS team confident in ability to find rural addresses

Despite Moffat County's plan to implement a new address system for residents on county roads, The Memorial Hospital's Emergency Medical Services team says that locating county residents in need of ambulance services is a top priority. Immediate response times indicate the level of confidence the team has in its ability to find residents no matter how their homes are addressed.

Recently, the EMS team has come under fire after public discussions of the readdresssing system implied that the team might not be able to find people in a timely manner.

Tom Soos, EMS director at TMH, said public discussions of the readdressing at meetings of the Moffat County Commissioners "centered around EMS not being able to find people."

Soos said that's not the case.

"To say EMS can't find you is a very unfair statement because we do find you," Soos said. "For the most part, our crews have not complained about not being able to find people."

While the issue is new to Moffat County, it's been taking place across the country since the 1970s, according to Dr. Jon Ossen, medical director for EMS at TMH.

"It's not just an EMS problem, but EMS gets blamed," Ossen said. "I don't understand why there's finger-pointing. It's a matter of bringing us in line with the rest of the country."

He watched the process unfold in California 25 years ago where he lived and worked as a paramedic.

But in California, the county didn't give anyone the chance to object.

"They didn't ask us," Ossen said. "The county mailed us a letter saying here's your new address, you have x number of days to get it done."

The county specified the size of the address numbers and told residents the numbers needed to be in plain view.

"There was no comment and no question," Ossen said.

Currently, the EMS personnel work in-house between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and midnight, Monday through Friday. The rest of the time they are on call.

In the first seven months of responding to emergencies in 2003, Soos said his crew was called out 365 times. During the staffed hours, the average response time for the ambulance crew was six minutes. Even when the paramedics are on-call, the average was 10 minutes.

"It's incredible how fast our crews are on scene," Ossen said.

Thirty-nine times in those seven months EMS had two ambulances on separate calls simultaneously. On three occasions, they sent out three ambulances simultaneously.

"We're providing a pretty decent service and we're being run through the mill," Soos said.

Shortly after publicity about the readdressing, Soos said he saw an increase in the number of people arriving in the emergency room who should have been transported by ambulance. Soos and Ossen both recalled emergencies that have been complicated when injured people are driven by car to the emergency room.

"I don't want people to think the service isn't going to be there for them and risk coming in on their own," Soos said. "For trauma and injuries, you can cause so much more damage by moving someone improperly. We recommend you just wait."

The ambulance often is perceived as being a transportation device, but Ossen said the ambulance is an extension of the emergency room out in the field. Ossen refers to them as "mobile intensive care units."

Ambulances at TMH can provide advanced life-support services, including the ability to place tubes in a victim's lungs, defibrillate them, insert IVs and administer drugs that can mitigate pain and speed up, slow down or smooth out rhythm of an ailing heart.

"They're not doing a whole lot less than we would start with in the ER," Ossen said.

The Memorial Hospital's EMS crew has demonstrated the ability to find people, and Ossen said that is largely due to an experienced crew familiar with the county. But the doctor contemplates the possibility of a situation when all of TMH's ambulances are already in the field covering a "major incident." If an emergency were to arise when these ambulances were occupied, "mutual aid agencies" from Maybell or Hayden or Steamboat would have to be called. How would they know where to find houses with confusing addresses? Ossen asked.

"There has to be something standardized to help mutual aid agencies without relying on somebody's recollection," Ossen said. "It needs to be so plain that we can call in National Guard troops from Iowa and they can pick up a map and know exactly where to go."

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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