HOLYOKE, Mass (WGGB) — Holyoke city leaders are sounding the alarm about delayed ambulance response times in the Paper City. This comes after an ABC40 investigation last February raised questions about ambulance response times in Springfield.
According to city documents, Holyoke contracts American Medical Response as the city’s primary ambulance provider through Holyoke Medical Center. However, the contract includes clauses that allow for changes if the city or Holyoke Medical Center raise concerns about EMS service. That’s exactly what officials on the city side of things are trying to do.
They are changes that Holyoke native Gigi Connell says are desperately needed. Connell went into congestive heart failure at Holyoke City Hall last October.
“I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t take another step,” Connell said.
She hit 200 beats per minute, and called 911. Holyoke Police and Fire quickly responded, but dispatch records show an AMR ambulance didn’t arrive for at least 20 minutes.
“I’m like ‘I’m never going to get out of here, and I’m going to die,’” Connell said about thinking back to that day.
Emergency Room nurses told Connell that the delay may have caused permanent damage, but she’s not the only one who has experienced delays. Between January 2012 and March of this year, AMR took over 10 minutes to arrive to 911 calls 422 different times in Holyoke. While that percentage is in compliance with their contract that is up for renewal, Fire Commissioner Yasser Menwer says AMR’S performance is troubling.
“We do realize that they do have a bottom line and their vested interest is a lot different than what the Holyoke Fire Department is set to do,” Menwer said.
One of the city’s biggest concerns is that while AMR does have three ambulances in their Holyoke garage, they are using those resources in other communities they serve.
“We have the perception that they may not be at the places where they should be at all times,” Menwer said. “I don’t want to make this about a witch hunt, I just want to trust but now verify.”
Currently, 911 calls go to police, then an AMR dispatch center and if the dispatcher thinks a fire engine could help the call, they ask for one. Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and the fire commission say before a new contract is signed, they want firefighters dispatching AMR ambulances.
“We will then be able to properly track using GPS that’s already installed in their ambulances to know where they are at at all times,” Menwer said.
“People know the men and women of the fire department. They trust our firefighters,” Morse said. “All of our firefighters are EMTs, and almost always are the first ones to respond to a call. AMR will then show up after the fire department.”
The cities of Brockton and Fitchburg already have the same set-up with AMR. Menwer says it saves those communities hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention lives like Gigi Connell’s.
“They shouldn’t refuse it because if they are where they are supposed to be it should be a ‘no brainer’ and that is why I’m challenging them,” Menwer said.
“Knowing that there’s a possibility that it would be a half hour or more before I get the help. I wouldn’t sit around and wait,” Connell said.
The Fire Commission also says it will save wear and tear on fire trucks, because instead of getting third party information and going to calls they don’t need to respond to, they can tailor their response to assist AMR
AMR declined an interview, but issued a statement saying “AMR works cooperatively with Holyoke Medical Center and our partners in the police and fire departments. When we are dispatched to a medical emergency, our caregivers respond appropriately and according to the protocols that have been established by the city.”
Negotiations for Holyoke’s ambulance service, in conjunction with Holyoke Medical Center and the city, are expected to begin this fall.
After a review by the city’s EMS Commission, Springfield recently opted to renew their contract with AMR.