Local News

More triage urged to cut Cumberland ambulance response times

Posted April 6, 2009 6:28 p.m. EDT

— Cape Fear Valley Health System, which owns and operates Cumberland County's ambulance system, has proposed redefining which calls to answer with an ambulance in order to cut response times by more than a third.

On average, an ambulance in Cumberland County arrives about 18 minutes after a call to 911, compared with 10 minutes in neighboring Moore County and less than 12 minutes in Mecklenburg County, officials said.

Sometimes, it takes as long as an hour or two, officials said, noting that first responders are often dispatched to treat a patient until an ambulance arrives.

Emergency services groups nationwide have set eight minutes as the standard for ambulance response times.

Cape Fear Valley EMS Chief Michael Roye told Cumberland County commissioners Monday that he plans to slash local response times by rerouting calls that aren't urgent from the 911 center to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, where nurses can address them.

"That allows 911 ambulances to focus on their mission, which is 911 (emergencies),” Roye said.

He also has created a new "omega" code that would make some calls such low priorities that no ambulance would be sent.

"A lead paramedic supervisor will go out and do a full patient assessment and make a determination if the patient needs an ambulance or can go by another transportation mode," he said. "We can still get them to the doctor. By no means will we say, 'No, you don’t need to see a doctor.'”

Roye said he hopes the changes will cut response times to 12 minutes by 2013 and to less than nine minutes by 2015.

"If you want faster service after these system changes, we're going to have to have additional funding to make that happen," he said.

Cape Fear Valley EMS has 22 ambulances to serve about 300,000 people in Cumberland County. The agency receives no county tax support.

Commissioners said any proposal to subsidize ambulances in a tight economy likely would be dead on arrival.

"You're talking more taxes from the county, and that's the No. 1 priority that we do," Commissioner El Melvin said. "With our county budget that’s coming up, we’re looking at all angles to make public safety a priority."