MATTOON -- City officials are reviewing the number of times that out-of-town ambulances have been dispatched to Mattoon since the fire department's ambulance service ended on July 25.
City Administrator Kyle Gill said preliminary reports show that Charleston Fire Department ambulances have been dispatched more than a dozen times since then to assist the two private ambulance services in Mattoon with handling the volume of emergency medical service calls there. Gill said the number of out-of-town dispatches is higher than what city officials expected.
However, Gill said city officials are still examining the details of each call for out-of-town ambulances to get clearer information. For example, some of these calls may have involved the out-of-town ambulances being called off en route. He also said there might have been times when Charleston ambulances were called unnecessarily.
"We just want to make sure they are being called when they need to be," Gill said. He added that they also will evaluate the total call volume for August in comparison to other months.
Fire Chief Tony Nichols said at Tuesday's Mattoon City Council meeting that he is going through all the ambulance call data for August and plans to prepare a report for the council.
On Aug. 21, the council heard concerns from Alissa MacDonald of Mattoon about her 22-month-old son having an epileptic seizure a few days beforehand at a time when the nearest available ambulance was out of Sullivan. Several community members also have been circulating photos on Facebook of Charleston ambulances operating in Mattoon since July 25.
City officials set the July 25 end date after the council voted on July 18, 2017, to eliminate the fire department's ambulance service to cut costs. City officials have said that this service lost money and duplicated the work of the two private providers. The firefighters union countered that the department's service generated needed revenue for the city and provided essential ambulance coverage locally.
Mattoon Fire Department has been able to retain its advanced life support equipment, now on fire engines, to treat patients on scene if needed until ambulances arrive to provide transport. The department has been carrying out this backup service during the transition in ambulance coverage.
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Gill said the ambulance coverage change is still in its first month and he believes that the city can work with its partner organizations to adjust. He said city officials plan to meet with representatives from the Coles County 911 system and Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center to discuss ambulance coverage, including patient transfers to out-of-town hospitals.
The two private providers operating in Mattoon, Dunn's Ambulance and Mitchell-Jerdan Ambulance Service, have reported that they are hiring more staff members, Gill said.
Greg Jerdan, owner of Mitchell-Jerdan Ambulance Service, said they are hiring more staff members and have ordered four new ambulances to replace their current three. He said the current staff has been busy, including recently resuscitating a drug overdose victim and two other patients who had coded in separate instances.
"We are extremely proud of the employees we have in handling this transition. It hasn't been easy for them," Jerdan said.
Jerdan said Charleston ambulances have been dispatched more than usual to Mattoon since July 25, but he expected this during the transition in ambulance coverage. He said the frequency of out-of-town ambulance dispatches to Mattoon should decrease soon.
Ambulances from Mattoon are also periodically dispatched to help ambulance services in Neoga, Windsor and other nearby towns through mutual aid agreements, Jerdan said. For example, he said Mitchell-Jerdan crews have provide mutual aid when Charleston ambulance crews were occupied serving in their capacity as firefighters.
Jerdan said he wants to look over the recent ambulance call figures to see how each dispatch of an out-of-town ambulances was classified. For example, he wants to make sure calls for Charleston ambulances to be on standby to help in Mattoon are not classified the same as calls to dispatch to Mattoon.
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