EMS Study urges in-town paramedics
DARIEN — Of the affluent stretch of communities along the Interstate 95 corridor in southwestern Connecticut, Darien is the sole municipality with no in-town paramedics.
This was one topic at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday, as Dr. Tim McGrath and Paul Guillbert of the McGrath Consulting Group presented the highlights of the 79-page EMS study commissioned by the town.
McGrath opened his presentation by addressing the prevailing concerns of the town that introducing paramedics into town might undermine the influence of the historic Post 53.
“This is not about any deficiencies with the Post 53. It is a very good BLS (basic life support) service,” McGrath said. “We did not find any major deficiencies. What we found are opportunities. Opportunities to add to your team, which we think will deliver a better level of service for your community.”
Ultimately, McGrath said, the decision comes down to when the town wants paramedics on the scene. The current system, according to his research, is inefficient and response times lag behind national standards.
In Darien when a 911 call is placed, it is answered first by a Darien police dispatcher who asks a series of preliminary questions in order to assess the severity of the emergency. If the dispatcher determines that medical help is needed, he then transfers the call to a Southwestern Regional Communication Center (CMED) dispatcher in Bridgeport, who goes through a similar set of questions before ultimately pressing the button for an ambulance to be sent. According to the report, it takes two minutes and 40 seconds on average before an ambulance is sent out.
“This can be changed, and in our opinion needs to be changed,” McGrath said.
He instead suggested that once a Darien police dispatcher has determined a call requires emergency medical services, the call be transfered to a CMED operator, and the dispatcher’s phone be muted but stay online. This, Mcgrath said, would eliminate the redundancy of two separate dispatchers asking the same questions and allow for an ambulance to be sent out an estimated 51 seconds sooner.
Those 51 seconds may be especially valuable come 2017, when the state of Connecticut will adopt a national training curriculum that requires an additional 350 hours of training in order to become a certified Advance Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT). AEMTs are capable of giving intravenous fluid and can assess a patient in greater depth than an Emergency Medical Responder or Emergency Medical Technician could.
Currently Post 53 has AEMTs on staff, but because of the new law, they will no longer be required to put in the extra hours to become certified, meaning a group of responders with less freedom to intervene in a medical emergency going forward.
“When you lose the ability to place an IV in in 2017, now you lose the lifeline,” McGrath said.
This is especially problematic because, according to data from the study, there is an average gap of three-and-a-half minutes between the arrival of Post 53, whose average response is 8 minutes 33 seconds, and the arrival of a paramedic, whose average response is 12 minutes 1 second.
“There’s great pride in your community. And one of you said this to me, ‘The citizens have allowed themselves to have the best,’” McGrath said to the board. “So is waiting 9 minutes and 21 seconds consistent with a high-level of service that I see in this community?”
In-town paramedics would come at a price.
McGrath laid out three options for the town: Darien could choose to keep Post 53 as its primary responders, even with the elimination of the AEMTs in 2017; the town could hire four in-town paramedics that would function as town employees; or it could hire contracted in-town paramedics from Stamford or Norwalk.
In the current system, the town spends an average of $177,301 on paramedics annually. According to Guillbert, the second option would cost approximately $270,000, including base salaries and benefits for four town employees. The third, the report says, could cost anywhere between $240,000 and $365,000 annually, depending on the contractor selected. McGrath suggested the third option.
“You’ve got a tremendous BLS system. I’m asking you to augment it and make it a tremendous response ambulance service by putting paramedics in town,” McGrath said.
Director of Post 53 Ron Hammer commented on the study via email to the Darien News, saying, “Post 53 has always worked very closely with paramedics. Basing them in the town of Darien vs. intercepting from a town next door does not represent a material change from where we are today. If the town chooses to base them here we look forward to helping them achieve their goal.”