Hampton EMS may be dropped as township's designated provider
Hampton Emergency Medical Services will no longer be selected as the preferred provider in Hampton Township after Dec. 31, if approved by a vote at council's Dec. 13 meeting.
The vote is a result of the significant percentage of missed calls and inability to transport to hospitals that has occurred over the last two years, including 2017, according to Victor Son, president of Hampton Council.
“We have been dealing with this since beginning of the year and it's been getting progressively worse,” said Son, adding they were getting “pressure from outside agencies” to address the issue.
He added “complaints by surrounding EMS crews forced to cover the Hampton EMS has become unacceptable and not fair to the safety of residents in Hampton Township.”
The township will also vote to designate Shaler EMS as the preferred provider as of Jan. 1, according to the recommendation to council made by Hampton Municipal Manager W. Christopher Lochner and Chief of Police Tom Vulakovich based on an observation and assessment report made on the Hampton EMS.
HEMS is a Pennsylvania-licensed, nonprofit that answers calls to emergency and non-emergency calls in Hampton and nearby communities for mutual support, according to Lochner. The organization was selected in the mid-1980s as Hampton's preferred responder, designating them as the contact for 911 calls.
It also has its own governing board and the township does not participate directly or indirectly in its operations, said Lochner. They are designated to respond to advanced life support and basic life support calls.
The report was initiated after Lochner said they started regularly receiving complaints on the Hampton service, beginning in 2016, from both residents and neighboring emergency medical responders. It is normal practice for the latter to provide mutual aid to neighboring communities.
In April 2017, Lochner requested that Vulakovich monitor the performance of the HEMS. The police department regularly responds to emergency calls in the community.
The report provides specific details on missed calls or not being able to properly answer emergency calls, such as transportation, noting they then relied on other neighboring responders for mutual aid.
For example, the Hampton report showed the HEMS not responding to more than 28.45 percent of its 911 emergency calls for medical assistance since April 2017. Another occasion placed themselves out of service from 11:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Nov. 10-11. And they did not properly respond to 38 percent of 911 dispatched emergency calls in October.
The emergency services organization is operated by Chief James Kline, who stated he never saw any of the complaints and disagreed with some of the township's findings, including the number of call responses.
He said they were not including the non-emergency calls they answered, which would put the answered calls at a higher percentage.
The report also showed that the HEMS placed itself out of service on April 16 per Allegheny County's 911 center. Despite the report, Kline said that was inaccurate as he was working the entire day, and was short as an employee never showed for work. Kline said the person who said they were out of service was not authorized to do so.
“I was on-call all day by myself,” said Kline.
Several concerns from the report stated that the calls were not answered or were not able to be responded to, including one where there was only one staffer responding by ambulance. They could not transport a patient until someone else arrived since they needed someone to administer care during the route.
Kline said a major factor for not being able to always adequately answer calls is staffing issues, noting that it's been difficult to find and maintain quality employees. As of last week, his staff consists of five full-time and one part-time employee. He said a full crew should range between 10 and 12 employees.
Verbal inquiries and letters from the township were sent to Kline, though not all received a reply, per the report. Lochner did ask Kline if there was a way to improve the situation of staffing and service. Kline indicated he intended to increase starting pay in hopes of bringing in and retaining staff.
“We're here to run emergency calls as long as I have staff on-hand,” said Kline, who is also a Hampton resident. “I'm doing the best I can do. I've been here 32 years. It's a difficult job to run.”
Kline said any resident who has a concern is welcome to call him.
Mutual aid is provided among Hampton, McCandless and Franklin Park, Shaler, Richland, West Deer and Ross/West View emergency medical service companies.
Vulakovich said Hampton police regularly attended to the 911 calls, so they were able to witness the situations.
“We just want our citizens to be safe,” said Cary Montgomery, Hampton Council member.
“We have the obligation to protect the residents of this township and we will do so,” said Son.
Lochner said that Shaler EMS will have a unit stationed at the Hampton Township Police Department building. A report is available by contacting Hampton Township.
Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.