ROCKY RIDGE, Ala. (WIAT) – Jefferson County officials and first responders are working with a consultant to address an ambulance shortage in the community. The county is one of many across the state feeling the impact of a shortage of drivers and help.
The shortage is causing them to have to respond to calls far beyond the Rocky Ridge territory – putting extra wear and tear on their vehicles as they work to help the more rural areas of the county, whether it’s 10 miles away or all the way to the Tuscaloosa line.
“It makes it hard on everybody,” fire chief Jon Lord said. “Everybody is hurting, and everybody needs help. We’re trying to see what we can do to help people, but it does tax us.”
Lord said they’ve been running an extra 30 to 60 calls a month helping other departments because of the ambulance shortage.
“You can’t blame the ambulance because they’re doing the best they can. It’s the situation and circumstances they’ve been thrown into,” Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens said.
According to Stephens, of the big problems is a Medicaid reimbursement that’s $100 less than neighboring states. Combine that with a shortage of paramedics who decide to work elsewhere at a career that’s not 24-7 and departments who don’t have their own ambulances in rural parts of the county – and it adds up.
“It’s making it difficult to have a short-term and quick fix to this,” Stephens said. “This is going to be a whole mindset that we’re going to have to change.”
That’s what Stephens said they’re working with the consultant to find out, but he said communication, cooperation and better coordination will be key.
“What we need is a coordinated effort to make sure that the citizens of Jefferson County receive an ambulance when needed, not when available,” Stephens said.
Because when that siren goes off, first responders are going to do what they can to help.
“We’re just trying to work with each other to make sure that the patients, no matter where they are, they are getting treated.”
Another big hold up is what first responders call wall time at the hospital while they wait with their patients for beds to open. Calls to 9-1-1 do not stop during that time, and that’s why departments are responding to other areas.
Results from that ambulance study are expected to be shared with the county commission later this month.