“Are any of you listening?” was a question that stuck with Kathy Rawls after the death of a child in Wagener last week – a child who wasn't transported to a hospital by a LifeNet helicopter even though one was dispatched to respond to the scene.
Rawls, who represents the Wagener area on Aiken County Council, asked that question in an email regarding the Aiken County EMS' response to the accident. It was an email that was not meant to go public, Rawls said on Tuesday. The email, which was sent to Council members and County staff, was forwarded to the Aiken Standard by at least two people in the community on Tuesday.
The email was worded harshly and brimmed with emotion.
“The community is stunned. Even the deputies at the scene yesterday (July 4) were in tears. When is someone going to get serious about the problems of our EMS?” the email reads.
On July 4, 2-year-old Ryan Eagerton was struck by a car at his family's residence and later pronounced dead at Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia.
According to Rawls' email, a LifeNet helicopter landing was set for Busbee Corbett Elementary Middle School on A.L. Corbett Circle in Wagener, which was less than a mile from the incident. She said there was a 10- to 15-minute delay before it was agreed to launch the helicopter, and 5 minutes out, it was canceled. Rawls wrote that another helicopter was then asked to land at the Pelion Airport, which is about 14 miles away from the accident.
During that time, paramedics from Wagener and New Holland were working to save the child.
Rawls said she doesn't understand the “refusal to launch the bird.”
“Next time, when he cancels the bird maybe we should have him just call the funeral home and the coroner,” Rawls wrote, referring to an Aiken County EMS shift supervisor.
Rawls said she doesn't regret sending the email.
“I know that I'm just fed up,” Rawls said. “If this was the first time it had happened, it may have been different.”
In her email, Rawls cited several other instances in which she feels the Aiken County EMS did not properly serve the residents in the eastern portion of the county.
When asked if the issues possibly stemmed from funding shortfalls or a shortage in staff, she said no, that EMS and the Sheriff's Office receive the majority of budget increases each year.
Rawls said the problem is poor decision making.
County Administrator Clay Killian said the County is currently investigating the situation and still trying to clarify the details. Staff is listening to the audio and looking at the dispatch report. Killian said they hope to have a full report to Council by the end of the week.
Killian said there has been an ongoing issue with the County's chopper dispatch policy, particularly for the eastern parts of the county, and County Council plans to review it for possible amendments.
Killian said the County's goal is to provide the best possible care to residents, and the community should continue to have faith in their EMS staff.
“It's a tough job,” Killian said. “They have to make these calls on the fly. It's a situation where people are put in incredibly stressful situations every day, and they have to make quick decisions with the information that they have available.”
Wagener Mayor Mike Miller agreed that, through his own personal experience, the Aiken County EMS has done a good job in the past. Miller said that, right now, passions are running high and everyone is blaming everyone else.
But, the delay in the helicopters does have the small-town mayor a bit shaken.
Miller said transport times in Aiken and Augusta are much quicker than in towns like his own where trauma centers are much farther away.
“Out here in Wagener, it's vital,” he said about helicopter transport.
Miller said he feels there needs to be more cooperation between the various fire departments and emergency responders.
He also agreed with Rawls that those making the decisions during a time of crisis need to do so with more care.
“I think the solution to every problem we're experiencing is working together, cooperating and being a little more humble,” Miller said.