When politics, money interfere with human life

Published 10:14 am Thursday, June 7, 2012

On Monday the Northampton County Board of Commissioners made the wrong decision.

At their regular meeting the commissioners rejected a plan that would place a county EMS Substation in the Milwaukee community and provide timely paramedic level emergency services to the eastern side of Northampton County. Instead, the board directed County Manager Wayne Jenkins to analyze the cost of that site to that of the former Woodland Rescue Squad building.

When Northampton EMS Charles Joyner and E-911 Director Ronald Storey Jr. appeared before the commissioners they brought with them the answer to the board’s request back in January: to find funding for the Milwaukee substation.

According to Joyner, the Milwaukee community would ideal for an EMS substation because the county already owns the land and it is nearly exactly in the middle of the eastern coverage area and would have a 10 minute response to Rich Square and Severn (the most southern and northern portions of that area).

As for Storey’s part, the Milwaukee substation could also act as a satellite E-911 center as it is located by a communications tower and less equipment would have to be placed at that site for dispatchers to communicate.

Joyner brought a funding proposal in Monday’s meeting for the $140,000 project, which included $80,000 that is currently available from the county’s E-911 fund, which can be reallocated for the project if used before June 30.

As for the other $60,000, Joyner said that could be financed over five years or could be paid out of this current year budget from surplus in the youth detention budget ($48,000) and reprogramming departmental budgets ($12,000), which was identified by Finance Officer Dot Vick.

“What we’re looking at now is trying to get something on the east end that we can respond out of and hopefully get response time down to 10 minutes or less for a county paramedic to be on the scene for any call we have in the county,” Joyner said.

It’s no secret that since the dissolution of Woodland EMS the eastern end of the county has been in desperate need for quick response emergency medical services. Currently, emergency calls in Woodland and Rich Square have a 15 to 20 minute wait for a county ambulance to respond from the main EMS station in Jackson.

In addition to the slow response time, that lack of EMS coverage on the east side has stretched county resources thin by increasing call volume by 95 percent and straining county finances.

During discussion the board tossed around various concerns and scenarios, many of them fueled by Board Attorney Charles Vaughan, who appeared to be influencing the board’s decision toward the Woodland station.

In previous board discussions, notably those concerning Eastside EMS, Vaughan asked the board to be recused due to his conflict of interest as he is the attorney for the town of Woodland. Yet during Monday’s discussion he made no request to be excused despite his obvious conflict of interest.

While I agree with the concerns over the upcoming budget, taking on more long term debt obligations and the idea of utilizing an already existing EMS station is appealing, the answers to all the “what ifs” were not there.

What if it cost more to retrofit the Woodland building to accommodate county EMS employees?

What if it cost more to place the radio equipment in that station?

What if the town of Woodland does not agree to donate the building to the county?

Over half of the funds needed for the Milwaukee substation are already there. And it’s basic knowledge that paramedics are that fine line between life and death, and all too often that window, that timeframe to save a life is far too short.

County EMS coverage to the east side could have provided. Unfortunately with this situation, politics and money took precedence over human life.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: amanda.vanderbroek@r-cnews.com or call (252) 332-7209.