More than five months have passed since the no-response tragedy on Dockside Drive prompted a Beacon investigation that continues to this day. The problems we uncovered – unscheduled shifts; unfilled shifts; paid employees arriving late, leaving early or not showing up at all; excessive waits to request mutual aid; and scant paramedic coverage – all continue.
We continue to check work schedules, employee time cards and EMS call response times. The December schedule had 17 unscheduled shifts when it was posted. That’s 18 percent of the shifts. We were told in August that the problem was the loss of four part-time employees in May. That was a bald-face lie as we documented in a Dec. 1 editorial. Four new part-time PAID employees started working in September and a former employee is now working a few shifts. So why do we still have unscheduled and unfilled shifts?
Unfilled shifts continue to affect patient care and lives. The PAID employee for the 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift beginning Dec. 3 was a no show. A call about a sick person on Union Avenue came in at 6:43:10 a.m. on Dec. 4. No one was on station and no volunteers responded. Hebron was dispatched 6:15 minutes later and arrived 9:40 after the first dispatch. Thankfully it wasn’t a heart, breathing problem or stroke call. That delay could have been deadly. A gas leak in Leisure Village came in that same morning at 7:26:45 a.m. Mutual aid was dispatched 5:55 minutes later with Millersport on the scene 16:06 minutes after the first dispatch. Buckeye Lake arrived two minutes earlier since the employee starting at 8 a.m. came in early. Gas leaks can turn deadly very quickly.
Three days later on Dec. 7, the PAID employee for the 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift failed to show up. So no one was on duty when a call about a reaction to medication on Highland Avenue came in. It took nearly seven minutes (6:55) to dispatch mutual aid. Buckeye Lake volunteers arrived on the scene 10:24 minutes after the call. Why are the lives of residents and visitors still put at risk by no or slow responses to calls for help?
The answers have been obvious for months. First, the focus is on the department NOT the patient. Licking County Fire Chiefs Association President and Heath Fire Chief Mark Huggins stated it very simply in an interview for a Dec. 8 Beacon report. “It’s all about the patient. You do what is best for the patient.”
Patients – you and your loved ones – don’t come first in Buckeye Lake. Preserving runs and a dysfunctional department have top priority here.
Second, the department is very poorly managed starting with Chief Pete Leindecker and extending to Captains Toby Miller and Dave Ruton. Ruton is the EMS coordinator and recently worked a paid shift. He showed up an hour early and left an hour early. No wonder other employees show up when it’s convenient.
The cornerstone of Mayor Rick Baker’s first response to this crisis was his Sept. 6 directive to Chief Leindecker that he contact the Licking County 9-1-1 Center to have mutual aid dispatched after three minutes rather the current six to eight minute delay. Baker then appointed an outside fire department review committee. The three-minute mutual aid dispatch was that group’s key recommendation as well.
It is now clear that Buckeye Lake officials did NOT take the recommendation seriously. Buckeye Lake waited until very late in November or very early in December to request the change. Licking County EMA Director Jeff Walker addressed the request in a two-paragraph letter dated Dec. 3. His letter emphasized the need for consistency in dispatching the 17 fire departments in Licking County. Walker told Leindecker to submit the request to the Licking County Fire Chiefs Association for review and consideration. The Beacon contacted Chief Huggins and Licking County Fire Chiefs Association President-elect and Granville Township Fire Chief Jeff Hussey on Dec. 5. Neither had heard anything from Walker nor Buckeye Lake on the change request. Hussey is a member of the 9-1-1 Center Oversight Committee and the group scheduled a meeting for Dec. 19 to discuss the request.
Chief Hussey said Dec. 19 that no one from Buckeye Lake had spoken to the group nor was present for the meeting. He added that neither the committee nor 9-1-1 Center Deputy Director Kevin Carver had received Buckeye Lake’s request so “there was no formal request for us to review.” Hussey said the committee did discuss what they believe the issue to be and decided the “short term fix” would be a run card adjustment to add automatic (no waiting) mutual aid dispatch for “key runs.” However, that fix must be done by Buckeye Lake, Hussey said. That’s the same group that waited months to raise the issue with the 9-1-1 Center and then failed to forward the request to the Association or even attend the meeting scheduled to discuss it.
That is complete dereliction of duty by both Baker and Leindecker. It’s just cause to remove them both from their positions. Their failure to even submit the key recommendation to improve service demonstrates their contempt for patients and their care
Baker will likely claim that the 9-1-1 Center rejected the request. That won’t fly because the Chiefs Association gets to make the call not the Center. Baker will also claim that he’s reviewing the draft Standard Operating Guideline presented by Leindecker and company at last week’s Safety Committee meeting. This quote from the first guideline sums it up. “No mutual aid is to be started prior to three (3) minute from time of dispatch to allow for the department’s volunteer cardholders to respond prior to calling for mutual aid from a surrounding department, excluding critical natures already receiving automatic aid from the Licking County 9-1-1 Center.” That is a preserving runs policy, not one to preserve lives. The only “critical natures” receiving automatic aid is “non-breathing.” So if you have a heart attack, stroke, fall or just problems breathing, your taxpayer-financed department is going to wait at least three minutes to see if a volunteer is going to respond so they can keep the run themselves. You may lose your life, but they kept the run.