A partnership between the Stokes County EMS services and Winston-Salem based LifeStar Emergency Services should improve services for county residents in 2016.
EMS Director Greg Collins said the partnership was the result of efforts to think outside-the-box to meet growing call volumes.
“Our call volume has increased by about 14 percent just about every year, and for the last 10 years we have not changed anything we have done,” said Collins, noting that a large part of the increased volume involves non-emergency, convalescent transports. “We have five basic ambulances and felt that we could not expand our department to meet the demand.
“The non-emergency, routine, scheduled calls can be just as important as some of the emergency calls, but when we have five ambulances and have five chest pains or strokes, or whatever, then the scheduled doctor office calls get bumped. That creates scheduling problems for the nursing homes, doctors’ offices and patients. This has ripple effects.
“So we started looking at doing a franchise agreement,” he said. “There has always been a franchise ordinance but we have never used it before. LifeStar is the one that applied for and was granted a franchise.”
Under the agreement, LifeStar will be responsible for all of the non-emergency, medical transports in the county, freeing up the county EMS team to respond to more life-threatening calls more efficiently.
“It is all about making sure the citizens get to where they need to go,” said Collins, noting that LifeStar could also help with some basic EMT calls in the county. “They will be stationed here with an ambulance and can run back up 911. If all of our ambulances are busy, they will have basic EMTs on it which can function just like our rescue squads in the county to assist anyone in need.”
Collins said they have slowly been transitioning to the new service model, with LifeStar already conducting one or two transports for Stokes County each day, but hope to have the system fully operational by the second quarter of 2016.
Under the new system, bed-bound patients needing transport to a doctors appointment can call LifeStar directly at 336-722-5433 (LIFE) to arrange the service, but Collins said 911 dispatchers could also provide contact information.
LifeStar Emergency Services Director Mike Hoots said the county communications center would help sort who should respond to which calls.
“They will go through a process where they triage on the telephone and if they can hand off the lower priority calls to us we will handle those,” he said. “We will work together. The patients are our top priority. It is all about patient care and making sure their needs are met.”
Collins said the new service would be billed the same as the current system.
“The charges are set by Medicare and Medicaid,” he said. “We have an identical fee schedule. You should call their number if it is for a scheduled appointment, for anything else call 911 and they will triage over the phone. Our dispatchers will make sure it works.”
Hoots said LifeStar had been operating in Winston-Salem, providing a similar service for Forsyth County, since 2009. The company currently employs about 80 EMTs, including a number of Stokes County residents.
“We do not offer any advanced life support, it is all a basic life support level of care,” he said. “We will have one ambulance dedicated to Stokes County but will be able to send more if needed. With Stokes County we will have a total of 16 trucks. Two or three are dedicated to Forsyth County’s 911 system. The other 13 are dedicated to convalescent scheduled transports. If the load gets heavy up here on scheduled transports we can bring up a truck and work it in.
“Our goal is to be an extension of Stokes County and to be a partner with those guys,” he added. “We would hope that the patients would not see any difference in the quality of service they have.”
Collins said they had already started contacting nursing homes, the primary source for convalescent transports, about the new service.
“They have been elated so far,” he said “They know we have missed scheduled appointments because emergency calls take precedence over those. They are saying this is a win-win solution for us.”
He added that the new system would not change the mutual aid agreements with surrounding counties, but should decrease the frequency which the county has to call for help to meet call volumes.
All LifeStar ambulances will be equipped with GPS to help drivers find pick up locations, but Collins noted that every county resident needed to make sure they had their home properly marked for all emergency personnel.
“We still go on calls to places where we cannot see the number,” he said. “It should be clearly marked with four-inch reflective numbers. It should not be just on the mailbox, but also at the driveway and at the house. The need to be easily seen so we can get to the patient as quickly as possible.”
Hoots noted that patients seeking medical transport should not abuse the system, because there are strict guidelines for what insurance companies will cover.
“There needs to be a medical necessity for these transports,” he explained. “They need to really need to be going by ambulance. Whether or not they are bed-bound is a really good way to determine that.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.