What's the 411 on the slow 911?

December 11, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
An investigation by the Fayetteville Observer shows it takes twice as long to get an ambulance in some areas of Cumberland County than the national average.The newspaper analyzed more than 36,000 calls between August 2007 and July of this year. The Observer found, on average, it takes ambulance crews 17-minutes to respond to life threatening calls in rural areas like Wade and Stedman.

One of those calls came from the home of 92-year-old Flora Lockamy in Stedman when she slipped and fell this past summer.

"She was on the kitchen floor with her left leg behind her and we knew that probably her hip broken. But it was worse than that. It was her leg was split this way and her hip was broken," explained granddaughter Sonia Lockamy-Tatum.

Stedman is about a 20-minute ride from downtown Fayetteville, but Lockamy-Tatum said it took the ambulance more than an hour to get to her grandmother.

"We waited and she was obvious pain. So my husband, after 30 minutes, he called. He called them again, and they told him that it would be a little while because the ambulance that serviced our area was dropping off a patient at Cape Fear Valley," Lockamy-Tatum recalled.

Lockamy-Tatum says her grandmother passed away at the hospital a couple of days later from complications following surgery. The family doesn't believe the slow ambulance response contributed to the death of their grandmother, but they say something's got to change.

"Why don't they have a first response team? I mean, they could have gone and maybe got to my Grandmother and maybe made her comfortable at least. But I think they need to come up with different plan than what they've got now," offered granddaughter Christie Lockamy-Price.

The ambulance service in Cumberland County is operated by the Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. Its dispatchers decide who gets an ambulance based on the severity of a patient's injury.

"So of course, sometimes those with the less severe, non-life threatening conditions have to wait depending on what's happening at a given moment in time and how many ambulances are on the road," explained Clinton Weaver with the Cape Fear Valley Medical Center.

Money is a big part of the problem. Weaver says ambulance call volume is up 56 percent since 1995. And, he says Cape Fear has one of the top 100 busiest hospital emergency departments in the nation. It gets no funding from the county and only collects 37- ercent of fees charged to patients.

"Definitely money would help. With a $5.6-million loss on an annual basis that is a huge deficit. And, if we had more financial resources to commit to the job, it would definitely allow us to bring more ambulances, more crews, better technology to do the job more quickly."

While Eyewitness News spoke with several people who complained about the response time and wished the ambulance would have gotten to them quicker, the one thing they didn't complain about was the service they got once the ambulance arrived. Most were very satisfied with medics and the care they received after they got there.


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