City drops controver$ial ambulance plan
Charlottesville's controversial plan to buy its own ambulances, add rescue staff, and charge citizens for ambulance service has been quietly taken off the table, Henry Graff reports for NBC29. The city's 2007-2008 budget earmarked $750,000 for Charlottesville to take over services many argued that the 48-year-old, volunteer-run, Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad already provided.
Besides a projected drop in revenues, several things have changed since spring 2007, says Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner: Albemarle County added an ambulance to its Monticello Fire Station in the urban ring, and the city, county and CARS were unable to reach an agreement on billing for ambulance service.
"My argument was ambulance capacity," says Werner. "We needed three-and-a-half, and CARS had three." With Albemarle's fourth ambulance now in service, that exceeds capacity needed at peak hours, he says.
"I never questioned CARS' response time," says Werner. "It was about capacity."
City-owned ambulance proponents were criticizing CARS response times in spring 2007. City Councilor/former Charlottesville Fire Chief Julian Taliaferro asked why it took CARS 26 minutes to get to Venable School and accused some of its volunteers of getting lost.
"I was concerned about [response times]," he says now. "Some were pretty excessive."
And now that the city has decided to ditch buying its own ambulances, says Taliaferro, "No one has really talked to me about it. I haven't seen their times lately. I've heard they've improved."
Part of the problem, says Werner, is that there weren't standards for response times in the city. An EMS committee recommended that a first responder should arrive within five minutes in 90 percent of the calls, with an ambulance there within 13 minutes.
CARS arrives within nine minutes in 90 percent of the calls it gets in the city. "In the last three month, they've responded to 96 percent in nine minutes," says Werner.
The city also has more medics on its fire engines, which typically are the first responders, and CARS now has equipment to control stop lights, more volunteers, and better maps, says Werner.
"Hindsight is 20-20," says Werner. "We have come together with CARS to respond better, and I'm working to remove the animosity. I believe CARS provides outstanding service to the community and always has. The good news is the city doesn't have to bill for ambulance service. CARS relies on fundraisers, and I urge people to continue to support them."
Adds Werner, "I never wanted ambulances just to have them. It's great to be back in the firefighting business and not worry about ambulance transport."
"We thought our response times were good all along and the data supported it," says CARS president Larry Claytor. "Things continue to run smoothly and we're there to serve the public."