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Bertie Rescue seeks answers

WINDSOR – Until further notice, Bertie County citizens in need of advanced life support (ALS) services will have to settle for the basics.

In the meantime, members of the Bertie County Rescue Squad are left to scratch their heads in wonderment over why Dr. Phil Harris, Bertie's EMS Medical Director, would prevent them from providing ALS.

Dr. Harris, in a letter dated Aug. 5, informed Bertie Rescue members they were no longer permitted to operate as an EMT-I (Intermediate Care) service. His decision reverts Bertie Rescue to basic EMT response.

What that means in layman's terms is Bertie Rescue members, at least the eight of those certified at the EMT-I level, are not allowed to offer advanced medical techniques to patients requiring those needs. Certified EMT-I's have training allowing them to start IV's and administer some types of medication in the field as well as en route to a medical facility.

"We can still answer all emergency calls, but just cannot offer ALS services," Randy Skinner, Captain of Bertie Rescue, said. "Dr. Harris' decision has demoted us to basic service, but we were not offered an explanation of why he made that decision."

In his letter, Dr. Harris called it a "regrettable decision," but one he felt compelled to make as he said, "this squad is unable to perform at the Intermediate Level at this time."

Furthermore, Dr. Harris instructed Ricky Freeman, Bertie's Director of Emergency Services, to have any equipment relating to ALS care removed from the Bertie Rescue vehicles.

The only reference Dr. Harris made in his letter in regards to why he reached such a decision came with the following remark n "I need to meet with Bertie County officials in some closed forum to discuss numerous issues involving the delivery of Emergency Services in Bertie County. We have had numerous mishaps in the past two months that I feel puts the county at risk from a liability perspective."

Skinner, speaking before the Bertie County Board of Commissioners on Monday night, said he was puzzled by that statement and called Dr. Harris' decision, "unjust."

"What have we done wrong," Skinner quizzed. "I respect Dr. Harris in his capacity as our Medical Director and he has the right to suspend any type of emergency medical services offered in our county. But what are the issues he's addressing? He's never met with us face-to-face. If we don't know what we are doing wrong, we can't make corrections."

Skinner told the Commissioners that without ALS, the medical welfare of Bertie citizens is in danger.

"We need to get these issues Dr. Harris is making reference to resolved as quickly as possible," Skinner stressed. "We need to meet with him face-to-face."

Rick Harrell, Chairman of the Bertie Commissioners, agreed.

"You sound sincere in correcting whatever the issues may be and it is our intent is to get you back to providing this service," Harrell said. "We don't need to drag this out."

Freeman, who was at Monday's Commissioners meeting, said he would attempt to discuss the issue with Dr. Harris.

The Bertie Rescue Squad offers a paid service from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., seven days a week. They revert to a volunteer squad after 6 p.m. on a daily basis. The squad has four, full-time employees who work two per shift. All four, according to Skinner, are EMT-I certified.

Each of the squad's eight members certified at the EMT-I level went through up to 160 hours of training to provide that level of medical care. They are required to commit an additional 36 hours annually of their free time, including a pair of ALS skills training sessions, to maintain this high level of certification.

Additionally, Bertie Rescue is the county's lone department that offers ALS service and has, according to Skinner, been doing so for the past eight years. Lewiston-Woodville, Colerain and Aulander rescue squads each operate at the EMT-D level (a combination of basic skills along with cardiac defibrillation).