An expensive ride to jail | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | July 7, 2016 5:00 am
Last Updated: July 6, 2016 at 10:38 am
By GEORGE SALSBERRY
Colleton County Fire-Rescue and Colleton Medical Center have enlisted the aid of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office to make an effort to stop abuse of the county’s health care system.
The problem is, Colleton County Fire-Rescue Chief Barry McRoy explains, “We have people who abuse our system, who use the ambulances like they are not supposed to.
“We are an emergency medical service, people are supposed to use us for emergencies. Sometimes people use us for a lot of things they should not.”
You might be surprised by the level of abuse. McRoy said that as of June 30, the halfway point for the calendar year, the ambulance service has handled 4,100 calls.
“Three individuals have accounted for two-and-one-half percent of our total call volume,” McRoy said. In the first 26 weeks of 2016, one abuser has called for an ambulance 50 times.
“When they call us, we can’t refuse to take them,” McRoy said. When they get to the Colleton Medical Center’s Emergency Department, the medical staff can’t turn them away.
While these individuals have some legitimate medical issues, “they don’t really have a medical emergency,” McRoy said. “The hospital obviously has an issue with them as well.”
“They use us as a taxi,” McRoy said.
Although HEPA regulations do not allow McRoy to provide specifics on the runs, he can provide some general information.
He said in many cases the people transported by ambulance, “walk in the back door of the hospital and then walk out the front door.”
A few years ago, the ambulance service was called to the western portion of the county for a medical emergency.
As the ambulance came into town on Bells Highway, the patient got better when the truck neared Walmart. The patient wanted to get out of the ambulance and was last seen walking into the business for a little therapeutic shopping.
McRoy said one abuser of the system was asked by paramedics to stop calling 911 for an ambulance. A Colleton County Sheriff’s Office deputy gave the man a ride home and also told him not to call 911 anymore. “Before the officer was out of driveway, he was back on the phone wanting to go back to the hospital,” McRoy said.
“This is just three of them, but there are a lot of people doing it,” McRoy said. “We can’t help and serve people if we are tied up with on people who abuse the system.”
The money it takes to provide two paramedics and an ambulance for the non-emergency run is not a factor in most cases, McRoy said. Most of the time the people abusing the system are on Medicare or Medicaid.
Those agencies provide payment for the ambulance transportation and funds for the emergency room visit. Sometimes, a private ambulance is called to return them home. Medicaid and Medicare pays that bill too.
“When people use the ambulances inappropriately,” he said, “they are tied up, not available for the people that really need them.” An average medical emergency call takes an ambulance out of service for a minimum of one hour.
“There have been several occasions where we were transporting one of these guys and then had a real emergency,” McRoy said. “Another ambulance had to come and handle that emergency, and it delays response time. The person who is really sick is suffering because these guys are abusing the system.”
Based on the call volume, he said, “We already short on ambulances; we need three more. They are pulling ambulances out of service.”
Fire-Rescue has eight ambulances running every day. “There have been multiple times where we get down to just one available. We are constantly moving trucks around the county. It is a constant juggling act,” McRoy said.
“We have talked to DSS, mental health, the Medicaid people,” McRoy said. “The regulatory agencies are not interested in addressing them.”
Abuse of the system is nothing new. “It’s been going on for ages,” McRoy said. People were abusing the ambulance service back when funeral homes provided the service, he said.
Emergency medical officials have spend almost as long trying to end the abuse. “Talking to the patients, talking to their families is not working. We have been working every avenue we can to make it better.”
In May, following a conversation between the medical center, fire-rescue and the sheriff’s office, another avenue was opened up to try and address the problem-arrests.
Since May, more than a half dozen arrests for unauthorized use of the 911 system have been made by the sheriff’s office.
McRoy said if one of the known abusers of the system calls 911 for a medical emergency, an ambulance is dispatched to transport the patient to the medical center and an emergency department doctor examines the patient.
If the person does not have a medical emergency and is being released from the hospital, a member of the sheriff’s office arrives to take them to jail.