Council seeks to improve ambulance response times

WARREN — A missed ambulance call to the Warren Slovak Club on Jan. 28 prompted members of city council on Wednesday to request the administration to negotiate contracts with private ambulance companies in an effort to improve emergency response times.

If contracts are negotiated and signed, the city also is expected to establish a memorandum of understanding with the Trumbull County 911 Center to primarily use the local ambulance services for its emergency calls.

Council’s police and fire and health and welfare committees held a joint meeting Wednesday to discuss ways to improve ambulance service response times after learning the city no longer had contracts with private ambulance services that held them accountable to short response times.

The city had contracts with EMT and MedStar Ambulance services prior to October 2017, but it was decided to allow these contracts to lapse because the city no longer had its own dispatch center. The city’s police dispatchers were merged into the Trumbull County 911 Center in 2015.

“Because we no longer employed the dispatchers, we did not believe we had control over them,” Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said.

Cantalamessa said the slower response times by the ambulance services is primarily caused by the increased number of calls for drug overdoses.

“It is taxing the response time of the ambulance services,” he said.

Cantalamessa emphasized that even if new contracts are negotiated and signed, it will not assure there will be a significant decrease in response times because there are more calls for service and a limited number of emergency vehicles.

Trumbull County 911 Director Ernest Cook said all other communities that do not have their own ambulance services have contracts with private ambulance services and they direct the center to use the private ambulance service with which they have an agreement.

Cook said that Trumbull County 911 dispatchers still follow the protocols of the prior contract Warren had with the two ambulance services, but after the contract ended there were more problems with companies not taking calls.

“If there are no ambulances available from the private ambulance companies, we go to public entities,” Cook said.

However, some of Warren’s neighboring communities, including Howland and Champion, will not send their public EMS services into the city.

Councilman Dan Sferra, D-at Large, suggested the companies and the administration look at alternating days so the companies would have a nearly equal opportunity to receive emergency calls.

EMT’s Chief Executive Officer Ken Joseph said he did not believe that would provide the most effective service to city residents.

“When there are alternating days, one of the companies can reduce its staffing on their off days,” Joseph said. “When it is alternating calls, both companies are responsible to remain fully staffed.”

Scott A. Pullins, an attorney with MedStar Ambulance, said having alternating days has worked successfully in other communities. Pullins said the alternating system is not working because EMT now is receiving 80 percent of the ambulance calls.

Cook said he liked the idea of alternating days.

Colbert suggested if a contract is negotiated that allowed both companies to get approximately 50 percent of the emergency calls, neither company would be able to profit because EMT would have to reduce the number of ambulance runs it takes and MedStar would have to increase its number of ambulance runs.

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at Large, questioned why neighboring communities are not sending ambulances into the city.