If Ambulance Rescue 33 wants to return to service — and its officials and supporters are emphatically confident that it can and will — it must make drastic and convincing changes and improvements to the way it operated leading up to its permanent suspension last September.
A six-page document — obtained from an unknown source, although verified by the Peoria Area Emergency Medical System as authentic — shows a time line that begins on May 18, 2007, with a “missed call incident report,” and ends on Aug. 30, 2012, with the notification of the permanent suspension of the ambulance service. In between are example after example of reported missed calls, slow-to-respond calls, and medical ineptitude and a patterned inability to solve its shortcomings despite official warnings along the way.
Those examples include:
A person with chest pains waiting 45 minutes for an ambulance.
Damage done to a patient’s windpipe because of the improper insertion of a breathing tube.
Failure to recognize a patient in cardiac arrest and failing to perform CPR.
A 15-minute response to a call six blocks from Rescue 33’s station.
A complaint from Methodist Medical Center about a motor vehicle accident victim who showed up in its emergency department after being left at the crash scene, unexamined for injuries, by emergency personnel. That one was reported as “patient abandonment.”
Rescue 33 officials and PAEMS declined to comment on the content of the document.
“The Peoria Area EMS is concerned that a confidential document has been released, but has no comment beyond that at this time,” wrote Shelli Dankoff, spokeswoman for OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, in an email response.
Taken as a whole, the incident reports were deemed serious enough for Dr. Cheryl Colbenson, the medical director of PAEMS, to place Rescue 33 on a 90-day probation on Aug. 6, 2012, and then on permanent suspension 24 days later. Rescue 33 lost a closed-door appeal on Oct. 3, 2012, and then declined the opportunity for a second appeal before a state Department of Public Health board. It has since filed a plan with PAEMS to reorganize.
Since 6 a.m. Sept. 4, Peoria-based Advanced Medical Transport has been answering emergency medical calls for the city of Chillicothe and the township, the village of Hopewell and Hallock, Medina, Stuben and LaPrairie townships, the former coverage area of Rescue 33.
Colbenson has said that she would not open Rescue 33’s reorganization plan and study it until after the Chillicothe City Council voted its support of the local ambulance service that has served the city and surrounding areas for 47 years. She met with representatives of Rescue 33 this week and will be sending a letter to the Chillicothe City Council, providing council members additional information, according to Dankoff. She did not elaborate.
“As Dr. Colbenson has stated repeatedly, it is not her decision to make; but she will give council members more information on which to base their decision,” Dankoff said.
On the council meeting agenda for Monday night is a motion to “request to Peoria Area EMS board to review Rescue 33 application for re-instatement.”
“The council wanted to request the application be reviewed before it made a decision of what ambulance service to select for the city of Chillicothe,” said Michael Seghetti, the city’s attorney.
Were it not for the anonymous donor of the time line document, the council would have had access to far less specific information about the problems with Rescue 33.
“The council had information about why the Peoria Area EMS suspended the service,” Seghetti said. “Was it enough information? That’s hard to say.”
The time line shows problems with Rescue 33 dating back almost five years, although it appears those problems escalated in 2012 as a staffing shortage worsened. PAEMS requested incident reports for June 2012 and learned that between June 13 and June 26 Rescue 33 failed to respond to six calls and had a 54-minute response time on a seventh one. Two area fire chiefs and one Emergency Management Service director contacted PAEMS about “Chillicothe Rescue 33 not responding to calls.”
An investigation was started July 9, about two weeks after expired and broken equipment was found during an annual ambulance inspection. The ambulance service was placed on probation and then permanently suspended beginning Sept. 4.
Ambulance officials have acknowledged problems from the past, but have vowed to correct them and come back as an improved service. Its reorganization plan includes charging patients for its ambulance service, something it had not done before. It also includes working up to staffing with paramedics trained in advanced life-saving techniques in the next few years. AMT staffs its ambulances with paramedics.
A meeting hosted by Rescue 33 drew hundreds of supporters last week. The meeting prompted the release of a letter by Douglass Marshall, the attorney for PAEMS.
“The problems which led to the permanent suspension of Rescue 33’s license were numerous and cannot be fixed by simply submitting a business plan,” he wrote. “This review cannot be rushed in order to meet a decision timetable established by the city of Chillicothe.”