THE ISSUE: Commissioners confront Nature Coast EMS response times and other missed marks.
OUR OPINION: Give them a chance to improve; explore other options if necessary.
When ambulance sirens are switched on, every second counts to save a life. Emergency service cannot be fumbled; precision is of the utmost importance.
At their Jan. 7 meeting, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) took to the dais to voice their concerns of Citrus County’s emergency response service, Nature Coast EMS, failing to meet contractually required response times and other minimum operational requirements.
And those contractual misses aren’t the only issues that came to the light.
Commissioners, Nature Coast management and members of the public cited things like staff shortages, public EMS misuse, funding issues, an audit delay, lack of confidence and transparency, customer service, negative morale, botched agency oversight and more as reason for the slip.
Many of the claims were concerning, and the county is right to investigate.
Over the week, Chronicle readers expressed their experiences with Nature Coast EMS and reviews were mixed; some good, some bad. The BOCC gave Nature Coast 45 days to come into compliance with their contract, or risk losing the contract.
The contract stipulates that the emergency service provider must meet an average response time of 7 minutes, 30 seconds once a unit is dispatched. It also requires a set number of ambulances on the road, which Commissioner Scott Carnahan said they were also in violation of.
Commissioner Brian Coleman said there were discrepancies in recorded response times between Nature Coast and the county’s data. Coleman said dispatch times show a response time averaging above 9 minutes.
Since Nature Coast EMS, the BOCC and the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) coordinate efforts to provide emergency services, the agencies should make the time to review coding, record and dispatch processes together to avoid missteps in the future. The county team could also assign a commissioner to proactively review response times on a regular basis as part of future oversight.
Nature Coast must be given a fair chance to fix them, as well as replenish staffing.
Commissioners were undecided about the best route to take if Nature Coast needs replacement, but the potential solutions could be a county-run service or contracting out for a different provider. Citrus County is one of the few counties in Florida that has emergency services that are separate from fire services. There’s a definite savings if they run together, and perhaps that option should be explored.
If Nature Coast is retained, some commissioners mentioned giving the agency additional funding, which could provide incentive for staff retention so paramedics and EMTs stay local. Nature Coast EMS has been a solid provider for emergency services in Citrus County since 2000. We have some of the finest first responders around, and it would be a shame to lose them.