Alachua County Commission Considers GFR Assistance To Combat Ambulance Shortage

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A Gainesville Fire Rescue truck sits at the downtown fire station July 22, 2015. (photo by Samuel Navarro)
A Gainesville Fire Rescue truck sits at the downtown fire station on July 22. Samuel Navarro / WUFT

The increasing number of calls for emergency medical services and the lack of ambulances from the Alachua County Fire Rescue has raised concerns in the community.

The group Strengthen Gainesville wants county commissioners to focus on expanding the ambulance fleet for emergency use instead of focusing on making money from out-of-state transfers.

The group created a petition asking for signatures to show the community’s support for allowing Gainesville Fire Rescue using their ambulances for Alachua County EMS calls. The petition’s aim was to also let county commissioners know the community stands for a stronger EMS system.

GFR Chief Jeff Lane said the department has not submitted a petition, but they have monitored a recent increase in the response times of the Alachua County ambulances. 

Strengthen Gainesville claims the use of Alachua County ambulances for inner-facility transfers, which they say sometimes go as far as Tennessee, led to a shortage of ambulances in the area.

Staff assistant for the EMS branch of the ACFR Christa Kopman confirmed that the county does perform out-of-state transfers, but that the shortage of ambulances in the area is not necessarily a consequences of this kind of service.

By state law, the ACFR is the only entity allowed to provide medical transportation, unless the Alachua County Commission grants a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to GFR.

Lane said the certificate will be discussed during an August 10 county commission meeting.

The certificate is a permit that allows any third party to perform a public service like non-emergency transfers as long as they meet a list of requirements stated under Ordinance 93-3, section 25.

“We do have the expertise, but we don’t have the county’s permission,” Lane said in regard to GFR’s ability of participating in transfer calls.

County commissioners recently agreed to purchase three new ambulances in an attempt to lower the workload of the ACFR emergency responders and meet high demands of transfer calls.

According to an ACFR budget proposal for fiscal year 2016, so far this year, the increase in responses and lack of available rescue units have led the ACFR to have a low number of rescue units available to respond in 142 occasions and 3 hours of no rescue units available to respond to emergencies.

Transfer calls consist of transporting patients from one hospital to another, even to out-of-state facilities. Transfers from UF Health, North Florida Regional and the VA Hospitals to out-of-county hospitals has increased 155 percent, according to ACFR deputy chief Harold Theus.

This is a major source of revenue for the county. Last year, revenue generated by out-of-county transfers was $561,037. Also, during the same fiscal year, the county was unable to handle 128 out-of-county transfers with potential revenue of $314,334, as stated in the county finance report…

Lt. Don Campbell from Gainesville’s Fire Rescue Station 1, located at 427 S. Main St., said that the only concern they have is to do the job right.

“We just want to save lives,” he said.

About Samuel Navarro

Samuel is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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