WAAY 31 I-TEAM: Family upset Shoals Ambulance took more than an hour to respond to call

Shoals Ambulance said it had priority one calls and couldn't get to the woman in a timely manner.

Posted: Aug 27, 2019 5:46 PM
Updated: Aug 28, 2019 9:33 AM

A family is upset after it took Shoals Ambulance more than an hour to respond to an emergency call.

The city of Florence and Lauderdale County have a contract with Shoals Ambulance. Shoals Ambulance said it normally has five staffed ambulances throughout the county, but one family, who wished to remain anonymous, said it took the ambulance service an hour and a half to get to their loved one.

"We didn't know at the time how bad her injuries were," said a family member of the 65-year-old woman.

The woman wants to be anonymous because she doesn't want to embarrass her family member by sharing their story. She says her 65-year-old mother in law fell at her home in Greenhill a few weeks ago and they called 911.

"She [dispatcher] kept saying it would take a while," said the woman.

A while turned into an hour and a half. Shoals Ambulance told WAAY 31 it was a perfect storm of calls and this family did, in fact, wait an hour and a half for service. The service says it was swamped with priority one emergency calls and this particular call was priority two.

"I get they were busy and covered up and stuff, but as my mother-in-law laid there for an hour and a half on hot pavement and very uncomfortable, hurt and in a lot of pain, we could do nothing but put ice on her and pray they would hurry up," said the woman.

The woman and her family couldn't move her mother-in-law and she ended up having a broken ankle. Eventually, the ambulance showed up and took her to the hospital.

"She has blood pressure issues. By the time they got her to the emergency room, her blood pressure was sky high. She was trembling still in a lot of pain and I just think it's ridiculous someone would have to wait that long," said the woman.

No volunteer fire departments were dispatched to this incident either because it was in the system as a second priority call, and Greenhill Volunteer Fire Department only go to life threatening calls or fires.

"It's not just a Greenhill issue. It's a county issue and when I say county, I mean the city of Florence," said Greenhill Volunteer Fire Chief Barry Gray.

Gray said anytime they go on a call, they have to wait for a Shoals Ambulance to show up. It's become such an issue, they began documenting the incidences where response time lagged or when the ambulance service had to call in additional services from neighboring county ambulance services.

"We have issues from not having an ambulance, them having to dispatch an ambulance from another county, to ambulances showing up and equipment failing," said Gray. 

We took these questions to Shoals Ambulance and asked if it was in compliance with its contract with the county and city. It said on average, five times a month, it is having to request other ambulance services to come in and help.

The county EMA director told WAAY 31 that is not a contract violation and said they have someone go over any calls by Shoals Ambulance. The EMA director said they are in compliance with their contract.

"If an ambulance is 10 or 15 minutes away, that's too long, much less an hour and a half," said Gray.

As we were interviewing Gray, they were called to a car wreck where a truck left the road and hit a tree. Three passengers were in the truck.

We went with volunteer firefighters to the scene on County Road 47. We got there before the second ambulance did and watched as the three people were loaded up into two Shoals Ambulances.

Gray said that call went well and the ambulance service did a great job that time.

"If every response time was like that, we're good. That's the way it should be," said Gray.

Gray said the problem is that not every call goes like that.

"No chief in this county wants Shoals Ambulance gone. We just want you to do what you say you're going to do and be honest about it. If you can't do it, own up to it and get someone in this county that can do it," said Gray.

Shoals Ambulance was the only ambulance service that applied for the contract. The company said because of the wait time the Greenhill family experienced, it is now looking into ways to improve response times.

The company is consulting with a deployment planning expert to go over the system in Lauderdale County and will deliver a report to Lauderdale County EMA, commissioners and local law enforcement.

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