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Data: Jefferson County EMS mutual aid far from being a two-way street

The city admits it's short-staffed, so it needs help from paramedics and EMT's from the suburbs of Jefferson County. Just how much is that taxing resources?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In a medical emergency, it just makes sense that the closest ambulance gets dispatched.

But in Louisville Metro’s urban services district, the closest ambulance is often from the suburbs.

The suburban services district is made up of Anchorage Middletown Fire & EMS, Fern Creek Fire & EMS (merged with Buechel Fire & EMS July 1, 2022), St. Matthews Fire & Rescue, Jeffersontown Fire Protection District, Okolona Fire Protection District, Pleasure Ridge Park (PRP) Fire District, and Highview Fire District (merging with Fern Creek July 1).

In fact, according to data those fire departments provided FOCUS, since 2020, the percentage of their total EMS dispatch calls to respond in the city have all gone up for each department, except for J-Town, where it was 8% of total calls last year.

However, the percentage jumped from 4% to 14% for Highview, 4% to 15% for Anchorage Middletown, 11% to 19% for Okolona, 23% to 37% for PRP, and 33% to a whopping 40% for St. Matthews.

“The reason for that is because of their location with the urban services Louisville Fire 4th district,” Jody Meiman, the Louisville Metro Emergency Services Director, said.

Mutual aid is traditionally thought of help going both ways, but except for PRP, calls to dispatch Metro EMS to the suburbs has been nowhere near 50/50.

According to Metro EMS data, they were dispatched to the suburbs 16% of their total number of calls, 81,261 calls, last year.

While 64% of dispatches from the urban to the suburban services district went to PRP, Highview got 1%, Anchorage Middletown 13%, J-Town 1.6%, Fern Creek 11%, and Okolona 14%.

For St. Matthews, it was just 677 Metro EMS calls to dispatch there, as opposed to St. Matthews being dispatched to the city 6,157 times in 2022.

Resources appear to be part of the problem.

“We’re down about 35% with out staffing,” Meiman said. “We strive for 20 trucks a day, we’ve been averaging over the last year, anywhere between 14 and 18 trucks per day.”

For all 7 of the suburban departments, they have a combined 29 ambulances.

“There is a problem,” J-Town Fire & EMS Chief Sean Dreisbach said.

Dreisbach is also the president of the Jefferson County Fire Chiefs Association and he points out that suburban departments and Metro EMS continue to have meaningful talks about improving things.

“If there’s a problem, I would say is the misuse of 911,” he said. “My ambulance is (being used) some time as a chauffeuring service to take somebody from home to the hospital because they either have a scheduled doctor’s appointment or they have a scheduled surgery that day.”

Data shows that a 3rd of the time runs into the city last year resulted in patients not even being transported.

In the case of Anchorage Middletown, not even half of the time were there transports; transports accounted for just 43% of their calls to the city.

“We have a lot of people that do abuse the system,” Meiman said.

He encourages folks to continue to call 911, but also to really think about whether an ambulance is necessary.

As part of his budget, cab fairs can be offered instead so that ambulances are not unnecessarily tied up.

Meiman hopes by this summer to have nurses integrated with dispatchers so they can help triage patients before help arrives.

Contact reporter John Charlton at jcharlton@whas11.com. Follow him on Twitter (@JCharltonNews) and Facebook.  

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