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Lexington paramedics may face a critical problem

By: Tim Johnston Email
By: Tim Johnston Email

Lexington's ambulance service stays very busy.

"It's always something," admitted Jason Neal, a paramedic for the city.

"It does get tiresome, sometimes," added fellow paramedic, Jason Picklesiner.

The city released a study that says their ambulances are averaging more than 3,800 runs per year, with five of their nine ambulances making more than 4,000 last year, alone.

One of the reasons why these paramedics are so busy, now, appears to have been decided years ago when the city started making budget cuts.

"We haven't recruited and we haven't trained for the last four years, and it's caught up to us in, kind of a sudden way," said Bill Farmer, Jr., the 5th District Council Member and Fire and Emergency Medical Services Task Force Chair.

Also, the city stopped filling some vacancies left by retiring paramedics.

Another problem these first responders face, Lexington is a much greater area then they can manage at times, especially with only nine ambulances. So, the city formed this task force to figure out how to quickly help ease this burden.

"If we don't address this soon, we will have a shortage of paramedics and the community will face problems," stated Dr. Steven Stack, Emergency Physician at St. Joseph's East and one of several doctors on the task force.

"We're, in essence, two emergency units short," added Farmer.

The national response time for a medical call is eight minutes, a goal the Lexington Fire Department strives to meet or beat with each call. To put the timing into perspective, Dr. Stack says the brain begins to lose oxygen after four minutes.

However, the Task Force found that over the last four years, fewer calls are meeting that goal. In 2007, 90% of all calls met that standard. In 2008 and 2009, the number slid to 88%, and in 2010 and 2011, the number dipped to 87%. Something the group says isn't a reflection of the work being done, in fact, they praise the men and women for the work done without many resources.

"It puts us in the position of not having enough ambulances to respond within that eight minute window," said Dr. Stack.

Another issue that plagues the paramedics, the calls keep stacking up. The Task Force says in their report that incident calls rose from 27,910, in 2007, to 36,696 last year.

Still, these paramedics don't complain. Neal and Picklesiner say they are on one of the busiest crews in Lexington, making roughly 4,500 runs, in 2011. All they ask for is more help.

"We're averaging approximately 15 runs a day, per unit," said Picklesiner, "if we did have a couple more [units] added on, it would ease the burden."

"We need more medics to staff the trucks. Some older guys making this many runs are starting to get burned out," described Neal of the challenges these medics face.

Adding, "we need more trucks."

In this line of work, being burned out is never a good thing.

"We need to let them know there's help on the horizon," emphasized Farmer.

Farmer and the Task Force are recommending to the city to add two new ambulances and a staff of roughly 23-25 new paramedics, over the next two years. Their report will be given to the Public Safety committee and will soon be presented to the City Council.

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