Letter: Ambulance took 2 hours to transport fire chief to hospital

A South Carolina senator sent a letter to Aiken County officials outlining the incident in a call for improvements to the county's EMS


Dede Biles
Aiken Standard, S.C.

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. — The South Carolina Senate Minority Leader wants Aiken County to do a better job of providing emergency medical services, especially in the rural area that is part of his district.

In a letter to County Council Chairman Gary Bunker and other County Council members, dated June 15, Nikki Setzler described a situation that occurred last month when Hollow Creek Fire Department Chief Glenn Poole “had a health incident” and an ambulance was called.

South Carolina Sen. Nikki Setzler wrote a letter to Aiken County officials calling for improvements to the county's ambulance service. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
South Carolina Sen. Nikki Setzler wrote a letter to Aiken County officials calling for improvements to the county's ambulance service. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

“I am told that it took two (2) hours for him to be transported to the Lexington County Hospital,” Setzler wrote. “Providing ambulance service to the citizens of Aiken County is a responsibility of County Council, and therefore I am contacting you to express my concern.”

Setzler, a Lexington Democrat, represents Senate District 26, which includes the northern portion of Aiken County along with parts of Calhoun, Lexington and Saluda counties.

“In speaking with representatives of the various volunteer fire departments and other constituents, I am told that this (a long wait for an ambulance) is more a regular occurrence rather than an exception,” Setzler wrote. “I am further informed that of the three EMS stations located in Wagener, Monetta and Windsor, it is common for only one station to be staffed with personnel on site while the other two are closed.”

As a result, an ambulance sometimes has to be sent from another part of Aiken County. That “puts people in need of immediate medical attention at an increased risk,” Setzler wrote, adding that they also might die while waiting for transport.

Setzler called for the issues involving the staffing of EMS stations and prolonged ambulance response times to be resolved by County Council “as soon as possible.”

County Administrator Clay Killian told the Aiken Standard on Monday that County Council “is very aware” of the problems and is “very interested in making sure the service is everything it needs to be.”

The two biggest challenges are the need to increase pay and the decreasing number of people who want to be emergency medical technicians and paramedics, according to Killian.

During the 2019-2020 fiscal year, County Council raised the salaries of EMS workers by 4% and then by 10%.

During its meeting Tuesday, the panel is scheduled to consider the third and final reading of an ordinance to establish the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget for the county. It includes a 3% across-the-board pay raise for county employees.

Bunker has told the Aiken Standard that he would like to give EMS and Sheriff’s Office workers a 5% increase instead of 3%.

But that still might not be enough because the county faces stiff competition for EMS employees from other counties nearby and from private companies.

“The pipeline is not big enough to fill the vacancies that are occurring, and there is kind of a hiring war right now,” Killian said. “It’s difficult work, and there are not a lot of people who want to do that kind of work. We’re trying to encourage people to go to school, and we’re paying for people to go to school. There are more jobs open than there are (qualified) people for them.”

Aiken County has tried to fill the gaps through agreements with Aiken Rescue, a nonprofit, and SouthStar Emergency Medical Services, a private company, to make their ambulances available to respond to 911 calls.

“The bottom line is we know this is a service that we’ve got to provide, and we’re going to try to do everything we can to provide it at the highest level we can,” Killian said. “I don’t know what it’s going to take, but we are going to continue to work on it. We’re running 20,000 calls a year, so it’s a busy, busy service. And as our community grows, we are going to have to put more services out there.”

Killian could not confirm that it took two hours to transport Poole to a hospital but said, “It was longer than we would have liked.” One reason why it took longer than usual was because the SouthStar vehicle that responded broke down, Killian reported.

Also, “the Wagener truck was already on a call,” he said.

When there is not enough staff to go around, the current strategy is to close EMS stations in rural areas because “the likelihood of a call coming out of Aiken and North Augusta is much higher,” Killian explained.

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©2020 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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