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Angry residents voice concerns over county ambulance reshuffling plan
Ambulances to be moved from rural areas under proposal
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Alisha Martinez, left, and Jackie Patterson speak during a meeting to discuss moving three ambulance units from rural areas in Gillsville. - photo by David Barnes

Recalling how she performed CPR and chest compressions for roughly 20 minutes, Alisha Martinez told Hall County commissioners and Hall County Fire Services’ staff of her wait for a paramedic.

“This affects real people, folks. That ambulance came from either Holly Drive or Spout Springs (Road). I live in Lula, 2.2 miles away from a fire station. Why was I the one who had to try to save that man’s life and not a paramedic?” she asked, following her fiance’s fatal cardiac arrest.

More than 100 people gathered inside the Gillsville City Park Community Building around 7 p.m.

Fire Chief Jeff Hood and Deputy Fire Chief Mark Arnold presented some facts and figures related to the decision to move ambulances away from Station 11 on Bark Camp Road in Murrayville, Station 10 on Ga. 52 in Gillsville and Station 9 on Poplar Springs Road. Commissioners Scott Gibbs and Richard Higgins were also in attendance.

“I was asked to provide the best services, the most effective services and resources to maximize our efficiency according to the budget that we have,” Hood said. 

Arnold said resources from the affected stations were underutilized.

Paramedics will remain on duty in all of the areas losing an ambulance, which the county argues will maintain the same level of emergency medical care in rural Hall.

The county plans to put paramedics on the fire engines in these areas and make all fire service vehicles equipped with medical equipment including cardiac monitors, EKGs, chest compression devices and pharmaceuticals.

The plan was vetted by the Hall County Board of Commissioners in a series of private meetings over the past month.

While the county officials have claimed this will not affect citizens’ access to transport units, members of the audience raised their concerns with personal anecdotes.

Lynn and James Matuska, of Gillsville, were some of the first to express how they were unsettled about an ambulance being away from their local station.

“If he injured that lung, the only one he has, that would be a load-and-go situation. He would need to be immediately to the hospital,” Lynn Matuska said of her husband.

County officials responded to the Matuskas by saying medical units would be rotated into the area if another call was tying up the local unit.

Citing his experience as a first-responder, Greg Guest, of Gillsville, said he does not believe the proposal will work.

“On paper, this model works perfectly. Put into action, this model does not work. I know it and you know it,” he said.

Hood disagreed, saying he had worked in areas where the model was successful.

Some prevailing notions from the audience were “everybody on this end of the county is just as important as the people on the south and north end of the county,” as one person put it, as well as getting what has been paid for in taxes.

Reading from a laptop, Battalion Chief Christie Grice said Med Unit 6 responded to Martinez’s medical emergency at 1:53 a.m. after being dispatched 10 minutes earlier. Martinez said she didn’t have medical personnel helping until 16 minutes after her call.

“The EMT that was back here told me that the reason why it took so long was they had another transport to the hospital from that station. So they had to finish that transport and then come back to Lula for him,” Martinez said.

Others in attendance, like Jackie Patterson, addressed the staffing issue with the department. Hood said 39 people had left the department this year and there are more than 50 vacancies, as well as frozen overtime. 

Some pointed to loved ones in the room and medical calls in recent times, when close calls have been avoided by quick action.

A firefighter shared a story of a rescue, where there were more patients than personnel to respond. The plan might make even fewer people available to work a call, the firefighter claimed.

“The problem is the rate of employees. That’s why they are taking med units away because they have an astounding rate of people leaving,” said Patterson, who lives near Station 10.

Gibbs said a work session to discuss the plan will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 25, and the  voting meeting is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 28. All meetings are at the Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road.

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