Ambulance plan should be spelled out

It took a near medical disaster in the presence of a Warren city councilman to bring attention to the problems stemming from a conscious decision by Warren city leaders to allow city contracts with private ambulance companies to lapse nearly five months ago.

When the city contracted its emergency dispatching operations with the Trumbull County 911 Center, officials took what they saw as an opportunity to pass the buck on lining up ambulance service for Warren residents as well.

“We chose not to renew the contracts, primarily because we no longer do dispatching,” Warren’s Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said recently.

That responsibility, however, should have remained with Warren’s Safety-Service Director, and he should not have attempted to abrogate that responsibility to the county dispatch center.

Under Warren’s previous agreements with private ambulance companies, it was the ambulance company’s responsibility to find backup service when there is an emergency, but no ambulances are available for service.

That responsibility no longer is spelled out, however, because the contracts lapsed in October and the city has opted to let it up to the Trumbull County 911 Center to handle the problem.

The issue came to light when a call for an ambulance came Jan. 28 from the Warren Slovak Club on Larchmont Avenue NE. It took two phone calls at least 10 minutes apart for the caller to learn no ambulance was available. Another 10 minutes later, and the callers decided to drive the ill man to the hospital themselves.

Luckily, what was suspected to be a heart attack turned out to be a less serious illness. But what if it hadn’t?

“No one in the city should have to wait that long. No one should have to call back only to be told there has not been an ambulance sent,” said Councilman Dan Sferra, who happened to be at the Slovak Club when the Jan. 28 emergency occurred.

Trumbull County 911 Director Ernie Cook tells us his agency has never coordinated contracts with ambulance companies for any Trumbull County community. Simply put, it’s the elected leaders in those communities who make those decisions, whether it’s use of the community’s public service or contracts with private service providers.

Here’s what else Cantalamessa had to say when our reporter asked him about city’s relationship with the 911 dispatch center:

“When something occurs that requires our attention, we can get what we need to determine exactly what happened,” he added.

But Cantalamessa’s concern is misplaced. City leaders need to be much more concerned with ensuring an ambulance is coming than they are with answering questions about what happened after it’s over.

With the incredible strain placed on emergency responders, particularly during the rising tide of opioid overdoses — local elected leaders in communities that rely on private ambulance companies should have the wherewithal to understand the critical importance of having a plan in place ensuring their residents will not be left without medical care in an emergency.

City leaders dropped the ball. The city is fortunate this situation didn’t turn out to be worse. And now, it’s time to fix it.