Cocke County Public Safety  Committee discusses EMS services

The Cocke County Public Safety Committee met this week and spent time talking about issues with First Call EMS.

On several occasions in recent years, the committee has been told the ambulance service did not respond to emergency calls because there was no available ambulance.

Commissioner Casey Gilliam said the family who made a recent call initially was told an ambulance was on the way to the heart attack victim, and later was told Gatlinburg EMS had been dispatched to the Cosby location. But he was told the ambulance did not respond.

Commissioner Norman Smith, who chairs the committee, said his research showed the four ambulances stationed in Cocke County were all on emergency calls at the time of that incident.

First Call General Manager Lindsey Ellison said all of the ambulances were on 911 calls when the call in question came in, and the first ambulance to be freed up did respond.

But she said having an ambulance available has recently become more difficult.

“Since the COVID pandemic we are experiencing, on a minimum, 45 minutes wait time to off-load a patient at Newport Medical Center. Other outlying hospitals have up to five hours before we can drop off a patient because they have nowhere to put patients. At Newport Medical Center they are working a 15-bed emergency room out of four or five rooms (for emergencies). So the patient has to stay on our stretcher until a room becomes available.”

Ellison did say her agency tries to utilize volunteer firemen for CPR in emergencies if an ambulance is not available.

Family members told Commissioner Forest Clevenger they were told an ambulance was on the way with the initial call. He suggested the patient could have been transported by private vehicle if the relative had been told all the ambulances were on emergency calls.

“Don’t tell them you are en route if you know it will be some time; that is unacceptable,” Clevenger told Ellison.

The manager agreed, but said while firemen in Newport are available to provide first aid, most volunteer fire departments do not have first responders.

Committee members agreed to look at ways to better prepare county and volunteer fire departments to respond to medical emergencies.

Ellison also expressed concern regarding calls in which EMS is dispatched to assist in non-emergency lift assists, and she said First Call also is called to help get individuals into an auto so a family member can drive to the store.

Those instances tie up an ambulance which then is not available for an emergency.

The committee suggested that First Call begin charging in such instances after the first response to an address.

Members also voted to recommend to the full legislative body the current members of the Sheriff’s Department Civil Service Board be replaced because they have served on the board for years. Plans are to accept applications from individuals who want to serve in that capacity.

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