Franklin County ambulances are busier than ever — averaging more than 11 calls per day.
The increased volume might begin to strain the county Emergency Medical Services’ resources, its director said Monday.
Nick Robbins, Franklin County Emergency Services director, said the magic number he is looking at is 4,000 calls per year before adjusting personnel. Franklin County is gaining on that magic number.
Through July, county EMS personnel responded to 2,175 calls, an increase of 175 calls from the same period in 2016. Robbins estimated the call volume will be around 3,700 calls at the end of 2017, which is nearly a 200-call increase from 2016. In 2014, the EMS saw 2,916 calls, which is right at a 700-call increase the past three years.
“The trend line keeps going up,” Robbins said. “We have been preparing as we go through these increases. We are keeping a good eye on our call volumes and call times. We have enough staffing to staff all our [ambulances] during the day Monday through Friday. It is calls on the weekends that strain us.”
The peak times for calls are between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., and the highest call volume is between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Robbins said.
“We have flex people that work Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and Wednesday, Friday and Sunday,” he said. “They work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week and 24 hours on the weekend. That is the saving grace for us on the increase. Every day but Monday, we have extra staffing during the day to help with the high volume call times. In the future, we may have to increase that.”
Franklin County EMS serves the entire county, including more than 26,000 residents in Ottawa, Centropolis, Lane, Pomona, Princeton, Rantoul, Richmond, Wellsville and Williamsburg, according to its website.
Robbins said Franklin County has five full-service ambulances and staffs three ambulances full-time with personnel 24/7.
“We have the ability to staff four most of the time,” he said. “We still have back-up plans with management on call.”
One of the issues is more than one emergency call comes in during a short amount of time.
“We see cluster calls more often than not,” he said. “It is intriguing because it is not just one place, it is throughout the whole system. We have not been in those situations before.”
Robbins said one of his concerns is the number of transfer calls where they take patients from Ransom Memorial Hospital, 1301 S. Main St., Ottawa, to another medical facility out of the county. Last year, those calls accounted for 14 percent of its total call volume and has increased to 15 percent in 2017. He said the danger of that is having an ambulance and personnel out of commission for local calls for a period of time.
Robbins said medical emergencies are the top type of call and the percentage the past two years remained the same at 64 percent.
“We are seeing an increase overall of calls,” he said. “It is not anything specific.”
Robbins said a couple of issues that might signal the increase is a change in people’s mindset and the aging population. He said in an earlier interview that in 1976, the EMS call volume was 600 to 700 per year.
“It used to be the mindset, if I can drive myself to the hospital that was the best thing to do,” he said. “Now, we are getting into systematic health care, we are preaching if you are having chest pains call 911 because we are going to get [medical treatment] started and expedite you to the correct location. The mindset of a farmer walking into the [hospital] with half of his arm cutoff because he could drive himself to the hospital is going away. For that, we are seeing a lot better systematic care throughout. It gives patients more options. It gives us the opportunity to be involved at the beginning.”
Robbins said Ottawa and the surrounding communities have an older population.
“There is a lot more elderly people living at home,” he said. “You are seeing more slips and falls.”
Robbins said people have different medical needs today than in years past.
“There is a lot of disease processes in our county that we are not used to seeing,” he said. “Those people that had those disease processes were living closer to hospitals. They are living out here [now]. You have patients waiting for heart transplants living in our community. Before they were staying in hotels or apartments right next to the hospital.”