Emergency Response: An ABC40 Investigation
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — Springfield native Jimmie Acevado was brutally shot in the early morning hours of January 16. While desperately waiting for paramedics to arrive, police officers began life-saving measures.
But it took an ambulance 17 minutes to arrive on scene.
It was an example of how taxed the local emergency response system can get.
Between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. on January 16, Emergency Management Director Bob Hassett says American Medical Response was already overloaded with 10 emergency calls, and coupled with snowy conditions, struggled to quickly respond to Monmouth Street.
That’s where Jimmie Acevado had been shot a dozen times. AMR called for mutual aid but no other companies could help.
“There was a crew delivering a patient to Baystate Medical Center, they released that patient as soon as possible from the crew and diverted the crew up to Monmouth Street to take care of them,” Hassett says.
While a quicker AMR response may not have saved Acevado, the delay does raise some concerns from City Councilor Bud Williams, who has heard complaints about ambulance response times.
“In some cases, they’re pretty staggering from what I’ve seen. From what I’ve seen on paper, they are pretty alarming,” says Councilor Williams.
AMR’s contract with Springfield mandates they respond to life threatening calls within 10 minutes, 95% of the time.
AMR meets that standard, yet city records show that more than 320 times in 2012, AMR took more than 10 minutes to respond to life threatening emergencies.
Over 170 times AMR listed the reason for the delay as the nearest ambulance being too far from the call.
Over 35 other times they listed delay reasons as “undetermined.”
Dr. John Santoro chairs the City of Springfield EMS Commission, which meets monthly with AMR.
“If you get an answer of unknown that’s unsettling and you try to explore it as much as you can. If you push that as far as you can and it’s still unknown,” Dr. Santoro says, “As long as it’s a small number and as long as you can say okay into the next month we don’t want to see unknowns, we want you in real time to determine what the reason for that is, so yeah we look at those.”
Some life threatening calls took anywhere from 11 to 43 minutes.
ABC40 has been working on this story for more than a month, and we reached out to AMR several times, offering them a chance to talk about this issues on camera, and requesting a ride along.
Eventually, AMR would only issue a statement pointing out those longer-than-10-minute responses are the exceptions saying, “We responded to more than 30,000 calls last year. The average response time for priority one calls was 6:48 (6 minutes and 48 seconds). We respond to each call promptly and safely.”
“They work very hard, we know that they work very hard,” explains Councilor Williams.
He adds that given the delay numbers, he questions if AMR is stretched too thin.
“We’re not here to point fingers at anyone. We’re just trying to make services better for the citizens because at the end of the day, this is about life and death,” says Councilor Williams.
Dr. Santoro told us the EMS Commission holds AMR accountable for their response times.
“If we got a complaint that looks like it grouped or bunched, either a particular neighborhood or a section in the city or a particular time of day, then what we would do as a commission is ask the contract holder to address that specific problem and ask them how are we going to solve this?,” Dr. Santoro adds.
Paramedics say that from snowstorms to missing street signs, though, they are challenged before even beginning to respond to the call, including the human factor.
“We see delays due to traffic. How many of us have been behind people who wouldn’t pull over for police cars, fire cars, ambulances either because they are unaware it’s behind them or they panic,” Hasset says.
Hasset adds that AMR works with other providers for mutual aid, but some days the call volume is overwhelming.
The EMS commission creates ambulance guidelines and makes recommendations to the mayor.
Santoro says where ambulances are placed while waiting for a call is a scientific process.
“This ambulance takes a patient in, the other ambulances circle around to do some overlapping coverage for that,” Dr. Santoro explains, “And the only way you can judge if that’s a workable solution is to look at these.”
Councilor Williams says while only a fraction of the calls take more than 10 minutes, something must be done to help the EMT’s and citizens.
“Let’s improve it. Let’s make it better. As I said, we’re not here to point fingers. We’re here to provide better services for our taxpayers,” says Councilor Williams.
AMR’S three year contract in Springfield expires this year.
While AMR meets all guidelines set by the city, Dr. Santoro says any company can bid for the job.
Given last year’s distance delays, will more manpower be on the table?
“It may be more ambulances, during a particular time of day or day of week. Or it may be that they are going to re-position the ambulances that they do have,” says Dr. Santoro.
The EMS Commission reports they have not received an overwhelming number of complaints against AMR, but that they are always looking to improve the system.
One of those ways, Hassett says, is citizens knowing when to call 9-1-1.
“If you’re just looking for a ride to the hospital for a routine, chronic medical problem maybe it isn’t time not to call an ambulance,” Hassett explains, “Maybe it’s time to call someone to help you or call commercial services.”