Tensions Run High During Discussion Over SF Ambulance Service

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – In recent weeks the Sioux Falls ambulance service, Paramedics Plus, has been in the hot seat.

Some city council members have questioned how efficient their service is.

So Tuesday night, during an informational meeting, the City Health Department addressed those concerns to council members.

And some of the discussion got a little heated.

“For us to spend so much time talking about exemptions when we’ve actually seen a decrease, is, I think, poor time spent,” says City of Sioux Falls Public Health Director Jill Franken.

“Those are people’s lives, the people are our family members, the community,” counters council member Pat Starr. “To be tired of talking about them is a little disturbing to me, and the attitude, I’m a little defended by.”

For an hour and a half, Sioux Falls city council members learned about the details in the city’s contract with Paramedics Plus.

“Just recently we’ve been hearing about some people who maybe weren’t serviced as quickly as they needed to be,” says councilor Theresa Stehly, on why the discussion is taking place.

One of the main topics was on exemptions, or the calls Paramedics Plus doesn’t need to account for, if they arrive to a scene later than required.

“When inaccurate dispatch information is given, or more often, if the caller gave the wrong location,” says EMS Quality Coordinator, Julie Charbonneau.

Those are some examples of exempt-worthy calls.

Others are if there is train or weather delays.

Last year, the city approved 347 exemptions for Paramedics Plus; that’s compared to 387 exemptions Rural Metro had in their last year of service.

“You add those 347 back in, on a month by month basis, they are still far over the 90 percent,” says councilor Christine Erickson.

Paramedics Plus is required to respond to 90 percent of the calls on time.

The response time depends on the priority of the call.

Charbonneau says for a priority 1 call, or an emergency call that is life-threatening, the contract requires the ambulance to respond in 8 minutes and 59 seconds, or less.

For priority 2, the set time is 11 minutes and 59 seconds, or less.

“Response times are just one measure of quality, rarely, very rarely, do response times matter to the outcome,” says Charbonneau. “The industry, in fact, is moving away from this measure. There is no research telling us what response times should be. They are set in individual communities.”

Another big topic was mutual aid.

“My biggest concern through this whole experience has been that we have enough ambulances on the street to meet the needs of our population,” says councilor Theresa Stehly.

Some councilors feel the ambulance service should have a mutual agreement with Med Star in Brandon.

However, “Paramedics Plus has met the terms of their contract,” says Franken.

Paramedics Plus is only required to have a mutual aid service with one other ambulance service.

They have two; and that’s with Dell Rapids and Humboldt.

“We’re dealing with human bodies, we’re dealing with disease, we’re dealing with trauma,” says Franken. “So we can’t set perfection as the expectation, but we can set good standards and hold the EMS system accountable to those really good standards; and that’s what we’ve done.”

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