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From the Daily: Prioritize emergencies

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published March 8, 2011

A Detroit man died of a heart attack while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Relatives called 9-1-1 multiple times, but an ambulance never came last August. Slow response times for ambulances in Detroit are placing citizens in life-threatening situations. In January, a plan was put into place to decrease response times, but thus far, the results have been minimal. The city of Detroit needs to re-examine its plan for dispatching emergency responders in order to ensure that everyone can receive medical help.

According to several articles from The Detroit News, the average response time for a city ambulance is 12 minutes — four minutes longer than the eight-minute national average. Many citizens estimate that ambulances can take up to 20 minutes to arrive. In certain situations, this additional time may be the difference between life and death.

The city has restructured the system to address citizens’ concerns. The main feature of the overhaul introduces a tiered response system, which immediately dispatches a basic ambulance and then sends a more advanced one if that is deemed necessary. Additionally, Detroit replaced eight of its older, advanced ambulance units with new, less-equipped basic life units. According to a March 4 Detroit News article, Deputy Mayor Saul Green said “the changes will allow the city’s EMS system to improve its average response time by 15 percent with the ultimate goal of meeting the national average.” Other changes include two proposed ordinances. The first alters the policy requiring dispatchers to respond to each call. This change means dispatchers can prioritize responses based on need and urgency, ensuring that the people in the direst need get care first. The second ordinance imposes a fine on business owners who exceed an allotted number of false alarms.

While these changes seem promising, the city has yet to see positive results. The tiered response system went into effect more than a month ago, yet people in Detroit still have to endure long wait times. According to a March 4 MLive.com article, an older man suffering from a stroke had to wait 45 minutes for an ambulance last week. This isn’t an improvement.

The reasons for the slow response times are inefficiency and a lack of resources. While the tiered system is a start, it isn’t being correctly executed. The new tiered system employed in Detroit isn’t akin to that in other states where a basic ambulance is sent first and then, if necessary, an advanced unit is sent. In Detroit, cases are prioritized, and only one ambulance is sent due to lack of resources.

With outdated software, distinguishing between priority cases and non-priority cases is increasingly difficult. Thus, many individuals who call for help are simply not receiving it. Add to this mess broken equipment, cuts in funding and inefficient policy, and there’s bound to be confusion. Emergency responders should be acting with a sense of urgency, and the current system doesn’t properly address emergencies. Detroit needs to re-examine the new plan, and make changes that actually improve services.


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