Bertie EMS Director updates Commissioners

Published 5:54 pm Tuesday, December 3, 2019

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WINDSOR – Bertie County’s in-house Emergency Medical Services turns seven years old in 2020, the non-emergency service will turn five.

Based on the update county Emergency Services Director Mitch Cooper gave the Bertie County Commissioners, that should be quite a couple of birthdays to celebrate.

“We’ve come a long way,” Cooper declared.

In his presentation before the Board, Cooper discussed new equipment, new technology, and the ups-and-downs, including staffing shortages. But he was quick to add some ideas for solutions without reducing the response time to citizens.

One new item is the Life Arm, an automated chest compression system.

“We used this twice last week on a CPR call,” he admitted. “It helps crews with their fatigue by ensuring quality chest compressions for up to an hour-and-a-half. We’ve seen some true benefits helping our employees.”

Cooper said his department was approved to purchase four, and currently three are in use on vehicles staffed at Colerain, Aulander, and the QRV (quick-response vehicle) in Windsor, with a fourth upcoming and possibly a fifth gifted to the department.

Other new equipment included four Powerlift stretchers, which are self-loading.

“One of our biggest injuries are back injuries which come from lifting patients,” he noted. “It’s safety for the patient and safety for the EMS staff; and hopefully by helping with Workman’s Comp claims it will pay for itself.”

While the $40,000 price tag might create ‘sticker-shock’, Cooper said over the anticipated 10-year life span of the gear, it becomes a feasible purchase.

The Non-Emergency Transport Services, he stated, has offset the EMS costs since its inception.

“We operate three to five ambulances per day depending on call volume,” Cooper said. “Our staff works 10-hour days for six days a week for scheduled calls.”

In 2015, when the service began, he says they ran 460 calls per year, and in 2018 they ran over 4,000.

“This year we’re running just under 4,000, which is right at our mark at 3,986 calls,” he acknowledged. “Our crews are doing an outstanding job just providing non-emergency care. Our goal is to make people better in the county.”

Cooper said short staffing is a national problem. The county currently has four openings on the EMS side and eight total all across the department.

Collections, he said aren’t as simple anymore because of Medicare regulations.

“A lot of (ambulance) companies in Bertie County can tell you this is a huge challenge,” he noted. “Our staff understands what it takes.”

Cooper said Bertie is working with some other nearby counties on expansion by franchising.

As for the county’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS), there are currently four (4) Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulances at the Paramedic level, with two in Windsor, one in Aulander, and the fourth in Colerain by design for the county.

Cooper said chute times and response times are critical.

“Chute time means from the time our radio goes off, our wheels are rolling, and we have it in our plan to do it in 90 seconds or less,” he said. We’re at 1.36 minutes – just a hair over a minute and a half. But in 2016 we had a major event with Hurricane Matthew and were put in three different locations not designed to hold ambulances.”

“Thirty-one percent of our chute times are under 41 seconds,” he stated.

Cooper said while the EMS response time is 20 minutes, Bertie is doing it in 9.72 minutes over a five-year average, which is pretty good for the area.

Call volume (just over 4,000 responses) includes fire calls, standbys for law enforcement, and minor runs not including hospitals.

“Peak call times by days of the week: Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursdays are our busiest days of the week,” he detailed.

It was noted that there have been approximately 790 less patients being transported via EMS in Bertie County in the most recent fiscal year. Reasons for that decrease include cardiac arrest, those choosing to see their primary care provider instead of an Emergency Room, on scene treatment, etc.

Cooper said there’s a lot of stress on the personnel in the back of these trucks the public may not be aware of.

“We’re not just taking care of patients,” he said. “We’ve got to put our hands on you, do all the work we can, plus do all the paperwork, and do it in a timely manner so the hospital has it when we arrive; and we want to be able to supply that because it’s making their job easier. Anything most ER’s can do, we can do. Our goal is to reduce ER visits and teach the public how to better take care of themselves.”

Cooper also espoused a hybrid system: three Advanced Life Support paramedic-level vehicles, instead of four; but the fourth would be a QRV, with a fifth vehicle being a peak-load truck during high call-volume days That would be a savings to the county of over $220,000 on the QRV over an ambulance, and over $161,000 on the truck.

While it reduces one transport vehicle, it still provides paramedic care, though one less transport vehicle may mean an increase in transport time.

“We haven’t cut down on our quality care, we’ve cut down on our response time, but we haven’t cut down on paramedic service,” Cooper said. “We still provide full service at the paramedic level and we’ve reduced the amount of overtime. We’re able to do just as much, or more, with less.”

Cooper pointed out that his staff covers an area of roughly 691 square miles and still meet response time, and getting a paramedic to every call. He hopes to have the hybrid system in place by Jan. 1 of 2020.

Several commissioners said they are receiving positive feedback from their constituents about the care Cooper and his staff have provided to patients before their arrival to area ER’s, and they commended Cooper for he and his staffs’ efforts.