Results from a random inspection of Aiken County Emergency Medical Services vehicles were released on Wednesday, though one ambulance was deemed “unsatisfactory,” no major findings turned up.
On Friday, the Department of Health and Environmental Control sent staff from its Division of Emergency Medical Services and Trauma to conduct an unscheduled inspection of Aiken County EMS ambulances.
According to DHEC spokesman Jim Beasely, staff reviewed the Aiken County EMS repair log and conducted physical inspections of seven of 15 ambulances.
“We did not observe any significant mechanical or equipment problems during our inspection,” Beasley wrote in an email on Thursday.
Health department records indicate that one or more ambulances have been inspected in Aiken County in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007 and 2006.
“All ambulances are physically inspected when they are initially permitted for a period of two years,” Beasely wrote in an email. “To be re-permitted, the ambulances may be 'randomly' inspected based upon compliance history.”
The ambulance listed as “unsatisfactory” requires minor work to meet the health department's regulations, which must be done by Oct. 30.
The inspection report reads that several lights are out and there's exposed wood, which County Emergency Services Director Tommy Thompson said is part of a compartment inside the ambulance that holds supplies.
Thompson, who said that he welcomes these inspections, stated that wood or any porous material cannot be exposed in a medical vehicle due to the possibility of it soaking up blood or other bodily fluids. Any surface in an ambulance must be impermeable so it's easy to clean and disinfect. He said they simply need to cover the wood with laminate.
Thompson added that they plan to go through all of their units to ensure there are no other porous materials exposed.
The remaining six ambulances were listed as satisfactory, but the health department cited exposed wood in compartments, a few lights that needed replacement and a few missing tools such as a hammer.
Thompson said they're all easy fixes, and they plan to have it taken care of in a matter of weeks.
The County is in the process of getting four replacement ambulances, Thompson said.
The highest mileage trucks will be replaced, and Thompson said one is sitting at more than 400,000 miles.
He added that these vehicles run as long as they are serviceable, and if they are not adequate or reliable, they're parked.
Once the County obtains the replacement vehicles, any ambulance that's being replaced but still determined reliable will be kept as a spare, and the rest will be sold as surplus, Thompson said.
Working with what they have
Thompson pointed out that, over the last few months, Aiken County EMS has faced quite a bit of scrutiny.
He said they are working on long-term solutions to resolve any problems that the department is experiencing.
One of the issues noted has been staffing, as the department has experienced approximately a 30 percent turnover rate in the past year.
Thompson said he's reviewed statistics across the country and the County is not unique in this situation, as the turnover rate is an average of 36 to 39 percent in EMS stations throughout the United States.
He said there are several contributing factors including scheduling, stating it's not unusual to have an emergency medical technician work in excess of 3,000 hours per year. Thompson said counties around the state are working to modify schedules to make employment “more attractive.”
Pay is another issue, Thompson added, saying that salaries of Aiken County emergency medical technicians are the lowest in the region.
Thompson said that, despite the struggles the department faces, he has a good crew.
“It's imperative that the citizens have confidence in us,” Thompson said. “We have competent, well-trained staff that is dedicated and that are here for one purpose – to give quality patient care.”
Amy Banton is the County reporter with the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va. and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College.