University Hospital considers new ambulance

The addition would fight slow response times in southern Boone County.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:20 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Because of long response times and a growing population in southern Boone County, ambulance officials at University Hospital want to add an emergency ambulance to cover the region.

University Hospital ambulance coordinator Jim Gwinner has submitted a plan to hospital administrators to put the Medic 22 ambulance into emergency service, probably near Ashland.

His proposal cites average response times of 15 minutes in southern Boone County when ambulances respond from Columbia. The national goal is eight minutes.

The new emergency ambulance would shorten response times, but hospital administrators might balk at the price tag — about $250,000 a year for the ambulance, fuel and crew, Gwinner estimates.

Hospital administrators will base their decision mostly on financial feasibility, University Hospital spokeswoman Monica Moore said.

Lori Lupe, manager of emergency services at the hospital, is evaluating the cost and benefit of adding the ambulance.

“We’ve talked to senior administration, and their main concern is, ‘Can we get enough new volume?’” Lupe said.

The proposal says there were 434 medical emergency calls in 2002 in southern Boone County. Gwinner said the added revenue from those calls would partly offset the cost by increasing the number of patients coming to the hospital. But the new ambulance likely would not cover all its expenses — most ambulances don’t.

“Ambulance services are never going to be money-makers,” Gwinner said.

There is no revenue for calls where there is no patient transport. And in many cases, the hospital is paid at low rates by Medicare or Medicaid. In some cases, the patient can’t pay at all.

The relocation plan was informally tested in August when University Hospital had a shortage of available orthopedic surgeons. The hospital had to make arrangements to transport those patients to other facilities with orthopedic surgeons available.

To do that, it stationed an ambulance for 24 days at the Southern Boone County Fire Protection District station in Ashland. The proposal says response times dropped to an average of six minutes in southern Boone County during that time.

“Any ambulance station in southern Boone County is a good idea,” said Bruce Groteweil, EMS manager for Capital Region Medical Center in Jefferson City. “It’s just better patient care.”

Capital Region’s Medic 40 ambulance currently comes from Jefferson City to cover most of Boone County south of Ashland, including Hartsburg. The ambulance has to travel almost 19 miles to reach Hartsburg, 18 miles to Ashland.

Officials at Capital Region, Boone Hospital Center and the Southern Boone County Fire Protection District said they favor the plan.

“We’re willing to do almost anything in reason to get them to come down,” said Bill Abrams, public information officer for the district. The ambulance could probably find a way to use the Ashland station without having to pay rent or sign a lease, Abrams said.

The new ambulance would also add depth and flexibility to the county EMS system. The proposal says that several times each month, the system goes to “status zero,” when all five emergency ambulances are on calls and are unable to respond to new emergencies. Medic 22 would become the sixth emergency ambulance.

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