By Michael Campbell News Editor
PRINCE GEORGE – As a new state-of-the-art full-service emergency care center progresses quickly toward completion along Temple Avenue, Prince George Fire and EMS officials are considering a partnership with the facility in an effort to better staff an area of the county seeing an uptick in call volume.
Prince George Fire and EMS Director Brad Owens used his time before the county’s board of supervisors to propose a public-private partnership between the county and the Tri-City Emergency Center, operated by Hospital Corporation of America, or HCA.
During his presentation, Owens explained that the partnership would allow for Prince George’s EMS units to respond to calls in the Puddledock Road corridor while also serving to handle transports from the Tri-City Emergency Center to other hospitals, such as Hopewell’s John Randolph Medical Center or Richmond’s VCU Medical Center when a patient needs to receive higher care.
According to data provided by Owens, since 2013, the county has seen a steady increase in EMS calls for service across the county. In 2013, just under 3,000 EMS responses were fielded that year while 2015 and 2016 saw call responses nearly reach 3,500.
Within those numbers, Owens said that the county’s EMS has seen a “steady and substantial increase” in call load from the Puddledock area, which includes much of the area between the western border of Fort Lee and the eastern border of neighboring Colonial Heights, where growth and development on both the residential and commercial side have occurred in recent years.
Between 2013 and 2016, EMS responses to the Puddledock area went from a low of 197 in 2013 to a peak of 387 in 2015, with a slight decline of 310 in 2016. A vast majority of those calls were answered by Jefferson Park Station, known as Company 5.
Data from the first quarter of 2017 shows the current trend of increased call volume from the Puddledock area shows no signs of slowing down, with nearly 125 EMS responses having already been fielded in the area and 91 of those calls being answered by Jefferson Park Station.
Owens projects by the end of the year, Jefferson Park Station will respond to over 360 EMS calls in the Puddledock area, with Prince George Emergency Crew out of Disputanta projected to answer 112 calls out of that same area.
Overall, Owens said trends in their data shows countywide EMS response totals will eclipse 3,500 if current projections hold true.
With his data as a backdrop, Owens broke down the challenge the increased call load out of the Puddledock area can have on the department’s resources.
“If you look at the data, the medic unit staffed at Jefferson Park has handled most of the EMS calls in Puddledock,” he remarked. “However, periodically, the unit is already committed to a call in their district when a call for service is generated in the Puddledock area. When this occurs, it requires one of our other staffed units to handle the call. When that happens, that EMS resource is now removed from the area in the county it was designed to serve, leaving no EMS protection, thus requiring outside agencies to handle the calls.”
According to Owens, past studies have shown when mutual aid or outside agencies are requested to respond to calls in the county, particularly in middle and eastern portions of Prince George, “the response times are in excess of 30 minutes.”
For Owens, the rationale of the partnership between the county emergency services and HCA is clear.
“This unit will not only respond to 911 calls in the Puddledock area,” he said, noting “the additional benefit from having this medic unit service the Puddledock area is that it keeps the other units in the locations in which they can provide quick, effective response times to the citizens in the rest of our county, as opposed to being tied up in the Puddledock area.”
As part of the proposed program, Owens said that one Basic Life Support and one Advanced Life Support provided, along with an ALS transport unit would be housed at the Tri-City Emergency Center along Temple Avenue in the heart of the Puddledock area, allowing for use of the building, along with two office and bunk areas for those EMS workers.
The county would be required to enter into a lease agreement and a service contract with HCA, who operates a number of hospitals in the area, including John Randolph Medical Center, with Owens noting the annual cost of the program would total $317,500, which he said is “a bit less” than what the department is paying for with the modular until at the Carson substation annually.
This program would be “self-sufficient,” Owens said, explaining that the calls for service that are generated by both the Tri-City Emergency Center and from the Puddledock area would generate enough revenue to cover the program.
“Basically, we are providing a better level of EMS service countywide at no additional cost to our citizens,” he said.
Factoring in current annual transports by the county’s EMS, along with transport projections from the Tri-City Emergency Center and Mutual Aid calls, Owens projects over $550,000 in revenue to be generated through cost recovery and billing. Even when removing the county’s current annual transport projections, the program is expected to generate well over $300,000 over the course of a given year, reinforcing Owen’s assertion of the proposed program’s self-sufficiency.
“This is a program that we are excited about and that the HCA team is excited about because it really does benefit both parties,” he said, adding that the partnership would see added benefits for the county’s EMS staff through training opportunities, such as having personnel rotate down to the facility periodically, allowing them to work with the emergency room’s staff and gain access to and “perform skills they may not always be afforded the opportunity to in the field.”
While Owens proposed entering into a trial period in June once the facility is up and running, some supervisors posed some questions, including Alan Carmichael who wondered if neighboring community Colonial Heights would consider the emergency center their closest ER, thus possibly creating an influx of patients.
Owens said he would reach out to HCA and Colonial Heights to see if that would be the case, but he added in some cases when the patient is stable, crews will take them to the closest facility or to a facility of their request and not everyone who comes in will need to be admitted.
Owens went on to say even if the facility were to end up being full, it would not prevent the Prince George rescue unit stationed at the emergency center from responding to calls in the Puddledock area, adding, “This unit will be able to pick up calls much faster than mutual aid.”
When asked by Chairman Bill Robertson about contingency plans in the event the Prince George ambulance stationed at the center is out on another call, Owens said it is something they are looking at while pointing to a similar HCA facility in Chesterfield, the Chippenham Hospital Swift Creek ER near Woodlake, as an example, noting that facility has utilized Chesterfield County’s EMS units because medical transporter American Medical Response, or AMR, were unable to respond.
Following the discussion, no action was taken on the matter, with Owens saying he planned to discuss the proposal with the county’s fire chiefs advisory committee.
If the trial is approved, Owens suggested that the county allows it to go for a full year, adding that HCA requires a 12-month lease of the space.