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Chief concerned over ambulance turnaround time

EMS advisory group to start meeting next month

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Ambulances are spending longer periods out of the county as patients are being taken to hospitals in Winchester and Harrisonburg, Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Yew said at the Board of Supervisors' public safety and code committee meeting Tuesday.

While an ambulance dispatched from Woodstock might be able to return to its station in an hour if it took a patient to Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, that time can double or triple if it makes a run to Winchester Medical Center or Rockingham Memorial Hospital, Yew said.

Factor in ambulances bringing patients from far-flung locations, such as Conicville or Orkney Springs, and the turnaround time can be four hours, he said.

An EMS advisory group is going to start meeting next month at the urging of Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Association President Dale Fogle, Yew said.

Shenandoah Memorial Hospital President Floyd Heater told the committee that Valley Health has been meeting with leadership from the Department of Fire and Rescue and other agencies during the past six months to discuss emergency care. Most recently, they've talked about obstetrics patients and the closure of the SMH birthing center earlier this summer, he said.

Most rescue patients can be taken to SMH, said Dr. John C. "Jack" Potter, the operational medical director for the Lord Fairfax Emergency Medical Services Council, the medical director for the emergency department at Winchester Medical Center and the system medical director for emergency services for Valley Health.

Those that are better off being diverted to other emergency departments are those needing cardiac cath lab treatment and some stroke victims, he said.

"These are things that have become more clear over the past several years," Potter said.

While SMH lacks a cardiac cath lab, much great cardiac care is provided there, he said.

Added to the list of patients who need to be diverted are women in labor -- unless it's an emergency. Women in labor have been directed to Warren Memorial Hospital's maternity unit.

"This has been the most recent stressant," Potter said. "The hospital struggled with this issue. They didn't have enough women delivering at Shenandoah."

In an emergency, babies can be delivered in the ER at SMH, he said.

"Is it as good as being in a labor and delivery department?" Potter asked. "It's not."

District 4 Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli said the county is averaging 40 percent of ambulance patients going out of the county.

"I feel that's a burden," she said. "How do we work together to get that percentage down?"

If he needs emergency medical care, Board of Supervisors Chairman David Ferguson said, he's not going to be concerned with how long an ambulance is out of station.

"Now, the county may care, or the volunteer rescue squad may care," he said. "I as a patient want the excellence of care. It's me I'm worried about at this point. To what level of excellence am I, going down the road, going to expect out of Woodstock?"

What happens in the emergency room at SMH is the same at what happens in its counterpart in Winchester, said Potter, who has pulled shifts at the Woodstock facility. Ninety-five percent of the time, patients' problems can be treated there, he said.

Some employers allow volunteer EMTs to leave work to go on calls, District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris said, but it can be a problem if a call takes 31/2 hours.

"That's where [Valley Health] needs to step up on transports and even on personnel," he said.

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maybe the county needs to open all it volunter services up and they can help out some. the county said that bad turn around and waiting times would stop for strasburg residence when they took over. and on there first day started failing at that with there still being long waits for ambulances responding fron kernstown. the county is not doing that much better then the strasburg rescue squad was but it still refuses to open it back up. the officials in this county need to get things fixed. the voters in this county need to remind them who they work for and take the "good ole boy" club down. maybe it is time for some new blood on the councel. not put there burden on a paid ambulance company and cost people more money. the county officials must not worry about the cost to the tax payers.to say valley health needs to do there jobs. that is what we are paying the county guys to do and the volunters do for free. why cost taxpayers even more money then the have to. maybe the county should have thought thru there plan a little better when they shut down a volunter agency.


Curtis. I wondered how long it would take for someone to jump on thier soap box about the Strasburg Rescue Squad. For your information representatives from the squad were at this meeting to discuss getting back up and running. This was not mentioned in this article. To blame the Board of Supervisers or SCFR or whoever for the squads ills is just redirecting the blame from the real problem.
Recent advances in health care make it possible for patients with acute and life threatening conditions to have better outcomes if appropriate care is received quickly, IE: heart attacks,and strokes. SMH provides many services to it's patients but it is still a community hospital. The bottom line will always be the patient. Yes there are some issues right now as far as deciding who can be handled locally and who needs to go north or south. I'm sure this will be addressed. As far as the last line of the article, Valley Health has contributed greatly to improve the care and services available at SMH and will continue to do so


Part of your post has some credibility. The points you make about the advances in health care are very prudent and to the point.

I do not think that Curtis was "jumping on a soap box" when he made his comments. I feel that he was simply stating the obvious. The policy makers in Shenandoah County, Strasburg, and SCFR did not look into the repercussions of closing one of the county's volunteer rescue stations. They only listened to the input of one person who either thought that he had a better idea, or had some sort of vendetta to serve.

The problem of turnaround times has always been an issue but when there was more than one unit from a station available to cover these instances, it made it easier to deal with. As the situation stands now, there is only one unit available unless resources are tapped from another county or agency. I know that personally I have seen and heard Middletown dispatched to "Assist Shenandoah County" just as much if not more now than when SVRS was operational.

While it is admirable for you to defend your employer, it is probably best to keep those defenses out of the newspaper.

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