Following issues with long EMS response times, Patrick County to install paid, full-time service

STUART, Va. (WDBJ7) People in one county will now have more reliable emergency services after it was decided to start a paid EMS service Monday night.

People in the small communities in Patrick County have been waiting two to three hours to get to a hospital after dialing 9-1-1 recently. Some, according to County Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Allen, were told to just drive themselves.

Anita Prutting spoke Monday night to the Board of Supervisors about an incident she had with a person suffering a grand mal seizure in October while working at Piedmont Community Services.

She recalled, "My supervisor called the EMS/911 within ten seconds and unfortunately it took over an hour before the ambulance service got there."

The person survived. But the delay was primarily due to the recent closure of Patrick County's hospital.

Now crews have to take patients to Martinsville, Hillsville, and even North Carolina!

"In previous times we could do a transport, say here in Stuart, it could be total turn around 45 minutes," Allen said. "Now it's a couple hours turn around time."

And employers for these volunteers just won't allow them to miss that much work.

Erica Sipko is a volunteer EMT and firefighter for the Stuart Fire Department.

She said, "If a call comes out, right now, at 5:00 in the morning, you're not getting to work until, at best, 8:30 or 9:00, and if you're job starts at 7:00, you can't help that person because you're going to lose your job."

In a surprising move Monday, the board approved a motion by Supervisor Rickie Fulcher that was not on the agenda to start a two-person full-time service using an ambulance donated to the county.

But it took nearly a decade to pull off, after talks of the service began in 2008, according to Sipko.

Board Chairperson Crystal Harris explained, "We're a little bit behind in what we want to do. We never want to step on any of our volunteers' toes because they are the life of our volunteer system."

But not everyone was in support during the heated debate that resulted in a 3-2 vote.

Supervisor Lock Boyce exclaimed in the meeting, "It won't work! And yea, there is going to be a worse situation with EMS in this county."

The big concern was how to pay for it, as taxes are already too high in Patrick County for some.

"We can't afford to pay people at $30 plus an hour to sit around eating pizza and watch TV waiting for the bell to go off," Boyce said.

Harris said there's $350,000 already set aside in the budget to start the service, and the county will use soft billing and grants to keep it going.

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