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Submitted to the Gazette

DUNCANSVILLE — The Bedford County 911 Center has begun to utilize an on-line emergency medical services availability system to aid in dispatching EMS in Bedford and Fulton Counties.

The system, originally developed and implemented in Huntingdon County, allows ambulance services and quick response agencies (QRS) to enter their staffing and availability into the system, allowing the 911 center to immediately determine if the service has a crew available to respond to an incident. The agency indicates the number of vehicles that they have with crews available to respond, as well as to identify when they do not have crews available or have a vehicle out-of-service.

“For years, dispatch centers have relied on the page and hope method,” indicated Carl Moen, executive director, Southern Alleghenies EMS Council, “where the 911 center would page an agency for an emergency response, and essentially hope that someone was available. But with the difficulties that EMS agencies are facing with recruiting and retaining staff, we must come up with a way that the dispatch center can know who is available when an emergency call comes in. If the agency had no crew available, after five minutes the 911 center would move to the next closest service and repeat the process. In some cases, it could be 20 minutes or longer, after notification of multiple agencies, until an ambulance indicated they were responding.”

There were 532 incidents reported by Bedford County 911 in 2018 where an EMS agency was dispatched but failed to respond. There have been 75 reports filed from January 1, 2019, through today.

This system will resolve that delay, by dispatching the service responsible for the area where the call is located, but if they are not available or do not indicate they are available to respond within five minutes, the call will be transferred to the closest agency listed as available in the system.

When implemented in Huntingdon County, the system decreased the number of incidents where EMS agencies failed to respond to a call to which they were dispatched and decreased the overall average time that it took to get an EMS unit on-scene after dispatch.

The availability system also protects EMS agencies that are unable to staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, such as volunteer agencies, as it assists the agencies in notifying the 911 center when they are unavailable as required by the EMS regulations. Agencies unable to staff 24-7-365 must notify the 911 center when unavailable and participate in a county-wide or broader plan, or risk disciplinary action against their licensure.

“Change is hard,” Moen said. “We have heard concerns from agencies, especially those that rely on volunteers that they are concerned about using this new system. We have had multiple discussions and meetings with the 911 center, EMS agencies and political representatives leading up to the implementation of the system, and believe that this resource provides an opportunity to improve EMS response in the counties of Bedford and Fulton by both ensuring that the 911 center has the appropriate information that they need to do their job of getting help to a patient as soon as they can, as well as allowing the agencies to meet their requirements under the law.”

Initial meetings have been held in Somerset County to familiarize agencies with the system. Somerset will be the next county within the region to implement the system, which will eventually be utilized in all the counties within the region. The system is being funded through funds provided from the state Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund (EMSOF).

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