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June 28, 2017 06:01 PM

Father Confronts Ambulance Authority Over Response Time

Sioux Falls, SD

The numbers look great. 

Paramedics Plus showed off its compliance rate for answering emergency calls on time on Wednesday in Sioux Falls.  While it boasts 96 to 100 percent compliance rate for calls for ambulances in April and May, those numbers may not tell the whole story.

Over the past year, the KELOLAND News Investigations have uncovered times when those same ambulances were late or unavailable.

We first introduced you to Brian Neal last month during our investigation "Help on Hold." We told this father that in the case of an April ATV crash in central Sioux Falls that killed his son, all Paramedics Plus ambulances were busy.  And by the time mutual aid was called from a neighboring ambulance company, it took 22 minutes for an ambulance to arrive on the scene from the time the 911 call came in. 

"Why," Brian Neal asked in May. "Funding?  I don't understand why they weren't available. Is it not enough vehicles, not enough people working?"

On Wednesday, Neal took those questions to the ambulance authority. 

Paramedics Plus got approval by Sioux Falls Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority for a three-percent rate hike, which is guaranteed in its contract with the city. 

But while the numbers all look rosy for Paramedics Plus, the board was confronted with cases where people had to wait for an ambulance.

Officials weren't answering our questions on their way into Wednesday's REMSA meeting, including City Health Director Jill Franken.  

Angela Kennecke: Jill, I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions? Franken: I'm going into a meeting here.  

Franken didn't have time for our questions and neither did Paramedics Plus Chief Operating Officer, Michael Bureau.

Kennecke: I would like to know if there are enough ambulances on the street at any given time?
Bureau:  Angela, I have to set up for everything, okay?
Kennecke:  But could you answer my questions?
Bureau: Not right now. 
Kennecke: Are you putting profit over people? 
Bureau: Angela, I have to get ready right now, okay.

But none of them could avoid the questions from Neal, who lost his son in an ATV crash in central Sioux Falls.

"It was my son this time; it can be yours next time," Neal said.

Neal says after KELOLAND Investigates told him it took 22 minutes for an ambulance to arrive on the scene of his son's accident, he began looking into the problem.  And he says his motives have been questioned. 

"I’m not looking to sue nobody. My son made a bad decision and as a result of that he lost his life. There is nobody to blame.  But the fact of the matter is, there was no ambulance available. That's the issue," Neal said. 

REMSA Chair Gary Myers:  There are going to be times when all ambulances are doing something, no matter how big or small.
Neal:  That's acceptable? 
Myers: It has to be--any city, New York City, and Chicago Fire, there are times when people are going to have to wait for ambulances. 

Myers told Neal that every call is reviewed where the ambulance was late, like in his son's case.

"Let's not think that we're immune, to what just happened to me, it can happen to you. This can happen to anyone. Let's hire two companies.  Let's make sure we've got enough," Neal said.

Med-Star of Brandon currently responds when called into Sioux Falls as backup. But owner Jay Masur has refused to sign a mutual aid agreement with Paramedics Plus. 

"We were called into the city three-and-a-half weeks ago, 20 minutes after the priority two call came in.  It took us 12 minutes to get there.  32 minutes after this call came in.  That's my number one problem with the mutual aid agreement right there. A mutual aid agreement is not to make somebody wait 22 minutes," Masur said. 

Masur says he'll sign a mutual aid agreement if he's called right away when no Paramedics Plus ambulances are available.

"I’m not signing to do what we're doing today because that's ridiculous and let the city know right now, call me, anytime you need me. We'll be here; my company will be here and give you everything we have. But to sign an agreement, it has to mean something," Masur said. 

Masur says if it's a life-threatening call and a Paramedics Plus truck becomes available, he would expect to be called off.  But he says a mutual aid contract must allow him to complete the call for service when it's not life threatening.  

Late Wednesday afternoon, the city said Franken would be available for an interview on Thursday.

Paramedics Plus head Michael Bureau told KELOLAND News he'd answer our questions via email.  We sent these to him Wednesday afternoon:   

  • Are there enough ambulances on the street at any given time to meet the needs of the City?
  • Is Paramedics Plus putting profit over people? 
  • Why can’t you work out a mutual aid agreement with MedStar?
  • Should compliance numbers be based on historical data in a growing City?

We received the following response Thursday morning at 10:27 a.m.:

It’s our understanding that the City of Sioux Falls studied the city’s needs for emergency response prior to releasing the bid for the contract that Paramedics Plus holds. Paramedics Plus studies historical trends in the city’s calls for emergency service and uses its predictive modeling system to determine ways to best serve the city today and as it continues to grow. Since starting the contract, Paramedics Plus has increased staffing and number of ambulances in Sioux Falls and provided upgraded technologies used in patient care.

Paramedics Plus has provided a mutual aid agreement to Med-Star and we continue to await its response to the proposed agreement.

Michael Bureau

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