SEOEMS defends service

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

It was standing room only Thursday when employees of Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services (SEOEMS),

their union representatives and some concerned citizens paid a visit to the Lawrence County Commission meeting.

One after another, the visitors pleaded with the commission to forego plans to put the county's ambulance service out to bid but the two commissioners who voted for the idea said the show of support for SEOEMS has not changed their mind on the issue.

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The employees handed over a several-inch thick stack of more than 3,000 petitions signed by local residents who want to see the ambulance service remain with the outfit that has provided service for more than 30 years.

While the employees cited their dedication to the community, concerns about employment and loss of benefits if the county were to bid service out to a private company, the most impassioned pleas came from area residents who have had to use emergency care.

They said having - or not having - SEOEMS made the difference in their emergency care.

Two years ago, former Rock Hill school board member Carl Large literally died and was revived after he collapsed just before a school board meeting. It was two SEOEMS paramedics whom he credited with giving him that second chance at life.

"I got there early one night and was talking with Garrett McFann when I collapsed. At that time Cindy (Carver, SEOEMS paramedic) was there for a football game and it had been cancelled and she walked into the building and she immediately rendered service to help me. I think they said I had probably been dead about two minutes," Large recalled.

"Mr. (fellow employee Richard) Chandler was at the junior high and he came over." Turning to Carver, who was seated in the audience, Large continued. "I thank you for your service, for your knowledge. If you had not been there that night I probably would not be here today."

Connie Christian, of Windsor Township, said she recently was in a car accident one-quarter mile inside the Gallia County line. Gallia County does not have SEOEMS as its service provider, so another ambulance was called.

That company, she said, took her to Holzer Medical Center in Gallipolis, not St.Mary's Medical Center in Huntington, W.Va.

Since Holzer does not have a trauma unit, she was eventually transferred to St. Mary's but the wait for specialized help, she said, added to her agony.

Commissioner George Patterson said he considers SEOEMS a "top-notch" organization but said after the meeting that from time to time every contract should be evaluated to see if the county could save money.

"I don't think we can make a mistake by looking at something," he said.

But Lawrence County resident Shirley Mannon told Commissioner Doug Malone after the meeting that it makes no sense to sacrifice quality to save a little bit of money.

Mannon said she feared that handing ambulance service over to a private entity would compromise the level of service and care that Lawrence Countians have grown accustomed to and expect.

Mannon said that since the county no longer has a hospital, the transfer time to a hospital is longer for the sick and injured - and what kind of care patients receive during those

moments of travel is crucial.

"I'm just not willing to trust my life to someone who may not be as well-trained as these people (SEOEMS)."

Malone responded by saying, "I'm not going to do anything to harm the quality of service."

SEOEMS employee Joe Stevens said after the meeting that today's visit is "only the beginning" of a campaign to educate the public and make commissioners understand that the public at large thinks this is an important issue.

"We're not done with this," Stevens said. "We want to let the public know we don't believe this is a good idea. We're still circulating petitions. A lot of people don't know what they (the commissioners) have done."

Two weeks ago, Malone and Patterson voted to put the county's ambulance service out for bid. Commissioner Jason Stephens voted against the idea, citing, among other things, SEOEMS' record of delivering excellent care and coming in under budget.