A shortage of ambulances in Sumter County is raising plenty of concerns in The Villages and its high time that county commissioners start asking some tough questions – and receive legitimate answers in return.
A growing number of stories have circulated throughout Florida’s Friendliest Hometown over the past several weeks about long wait times for ambulances provided by “Sumter County EMS, Operated by American Medical Response.”
This problem – make no mistake, it is a huge issue – should be particularly concerning for all Villagers who live in Sumter County, as the southern portion of the community is growing at a rapid pace and until something gets done about the problem, it could get worse with each new house that gets sold.
We’re sure many of you have heard some of the horror stories that have circulated throughout the sprawling retirement mecca. A Village of Virginia Trace man who passed out while cutting his lawn indicated that he waited for an hour and 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. A neighbor went over to help him and said she was “absolutely appalled” at the incredibly long wait for the ambulance. She said it was “just crazy” and “an ungodly amount of time to wait for an ambulance.”
A man who needed a pacemaker passed out while playing pickleball and waited 25 minutes for an ambulance. After getting her second COVID-19 vaccination shot, a woman suffered a possible reaction and her blood pressure dropped. She passed out, fell hard to the floor of her bathroom and her brother-in-law said he was told the closest ambulance available would have to come from Dade City, which is more than 40 miles away. In the end, it took well over an hour for the ambulance to finally arrive.
The issue has caught the attention of Community Development District 8 Supervisor Duane Johnson, who said he is concerned about such stories. He added that it’s time for Sumter County to take a hard line with American Medical Response.
“If they are not living up to the terms of their contract, maybe it should be declared null and void,” he said.
Before we go further, please understand that this ambulance service is a completely separate entity from The Villages Public Safety Department, which mans the fire engines that you see on a regular basis throughout the community. That department maintains a response time of about four and a half minutes and continues to earn high marks from residents for the care and compassion they show in such agonizing situations. But those paramedics and firefighters can only do so much without an ambulance there to transport patients who need to be seen at a hospital.
Also please remember that the issue doesn’t lie in the hands of those medics who man the Sumter County EMS ambulances. They don’t run the company, make hiring decisions or decide how many ambulances will be on the street at any given time. That comes at a much higher level among Sumter County government officials who, by the way, should hang their heads in shame for letting this situation continue to plague the community.
Not surprisingly, the personnel who work for Sumter EMS have been quite reluctant to complain publicly for fear of reprisal. But they have provided background information to Villages-News.com.
They say that numerous EMTs and paramedics have left due to low wages and poor working conditions. This has become such an issue that AMR is now staffing ambulances with two EMTs instead of the required EMT and paramedic.
In addition, they say the department is so understaffed that they aren’t able to put an adequate number of ambulances on the road any day of the week. Cardiac arrests, strokes, heart attacks – all of these types of critical calls have had delays waiting on ambulances from this private, for-profit company, according to personnel.
They also have indicated to Villages-News.com that AMR ambulances have been forced to respond to Sumter County from extreme distances such as Ocala or Orange County. They are urging residents to reach out to Sumter County commissioners to ask them to look into the problems.
There’s another thing that every Villager should consider when dealing with this nightmare. The first hour after a patient suffers a traumatic injury is known as the “Golden Hour” and it is the period of time that offers the highest likelihood that prompt medical and surgical treatment will prevent death. So, spending that time at your home or on a pickleball court waiting for an ambulance to take you to a hospital simply doesn’t work, to say the least.
As we said earlier, it’s time for all five Sumter County commissioners to ask some hard questions about this problem, get some straight answers and fix the problem. Villagers and every Sumter County resident who pay their taxes deserve better and they should be able to count on prompt medical responses from both their fire department and the ambulance provider in their time of need.
In fact, every resident of Sumter County should demand that prompt response and shouldn’t let up until they are told why the problem exists, how their government leaders are going to fix it and how they’re going to prevent it from ever happening again. Anything less is completely unacceptable.