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.

(4) comments

BarbaraLucas

I am deeply proud and grateful to all of the Citrus County citizens who had the courage to present their patient safety concerns to the Board of Commissioners.

Respectfully,

Barbara Lucas RN, BSN (retired)

MichaelGaffney

I wonder how many people have died or suffered further complications because of their slow times? I personally believe it should fall under the fire chiefs hat. That way it is constantly being monitored on a daily basis. The commissioner's have a lot on their plate on a daily basis and this way they will have one person answering to them. I am positive in thinking as part of the fire department it will be easier to retain staff as well to make sure all the training and certifications are current. Its time to do the right thing for the citizens of Citrus county.

lancel44

There's two critical reasons seniors come to citrus county to live. 1-low crime 2- medical care. If you can't provide either one you lose, because the county doesn't have much else to offer and i'm not bieng facetious.

rmcconnell

I am not sure I agree with the “ give them time to fix them” (the issues and problems they’re having) stance. I have to believe that Nature Coast new of these problems for quite some time and chose to try and let them slide. Once they were called on these issues, now it’s a , we need time to fix them issue. They should never have let these problems get this far in the first place. They have been entrusted with human life in some cases, and there is no room for mistakes.

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