By Leo Coughlin
Of some concern in this corner for some time has been a lack of understanding of how the Emergency Medical System works in its various parts.
While I could take a stab at explaining the Rule Against Perpetuities, as arcane a subject as one could venture into, the EMS workings have been even more perplexing.
Maybe it is because there is such a large number of jurisdictions in Pinellas County (the most in the state) with the county overlaying much of them, and maybe some duplication. I don’t know.
To straighten out to some extent the confusion and to get a clearer picture of how it all works, I went to the man who surely knows, Chief Mike Wallace of Largo Fire and Rescue.
The chief’s extensive explanation greatly clarifies things. Herewith I give, in my words and many of his, what he conveyed in what stands as an excellent tutorial on a vital system in our everyday life.
Wallace admitted at the outset that the EMS delivery system can be complicated, but set forth the basic foundation of EMS which is, of course, money.
Under state statute, the chief explained, Pinellas County collects taxes from every homeowner in Pinellas County and bills every patient who is transported to the hospital.
EMS services are then “purchased” with those funds. Fire departments – and there are many such throughout the county – provide the initial rapid response to 911 calls.
And, of course, this service is paid for from part of the collected taxes, Wallace says. “Transport to the hospital is purchased from a single ambulance provider and those services are mostly paid for by the money collected from transport bills.”
Funds also go to other costs like providing ongoing and continuing medical education from St. Petersburg College and direction and oversight from a private medical provider.
On top of that, Wallace points out, there are equipment and administrative costs.
He said that this there is a $12 million shortfall between expenses and revenue. The county was listing this at $18 million, but Wallace says an additional $6 million in revenue was not accounted for in earlier figuring.
Part of an answer to the shortfall, according to the chief, would be raise the EMS millage from .58 of a mill to .65 of a mill, count the found revenue of $6 million, include the savings of $3 million from the ambulance company, draw about 14 percent ($5 million) from the $35 million reserves.
Wallace says that under the current county proposal in dealing with EMS, each fire district would have to reduce its level of service.
In Largo, for example, there would be a reduction of three paramedics from the unit at East Bay Drive and Belcher Road.
“Currently we have two units there because of the heavy call volume and the county proposes to reduce that to one unit,” he says.
As to 911 dispatching, Wallace says there is one consolidated center. All public safety calls – fire, police and medical – go to a single answering point and each call is then sent to the appropriate agency. He says the current time from call to dispatch is 34 seconds.
Largo police and the Sheriff’s Office have their own communication centers to handle such calls as they are received and the fire department is tied into the county dispatch center because the response often is done with multiple fire departments.
“Most structure fire responses are comprised of multiple fire departments operating as a functionally consolidated department now. Different names on the trucks paid for by local taxes but operationally we all use the same standard operating procedures to ensure a cohesive and standardized response and fire ground operation,” Wallace says.
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