“Please do the right thing, so my friend will not have passed in vain.”
Tuesday evening, the Marco Island City Council heard impassioned testimony from Bob Rowe, whose friend, Paul Anderson, died when red tape and questions of jurisdiction delayed him getting a prompt ambulance ride to the hospital. The case has already brought about a reshuffling in how emergency medical transportation is handled on the island, with NCH bowing out of the task, and that evening, the Council listened to a proposal from Marco Fire/Rescue Chief Mike Murphy on a plan to improve the system, and the outcomes for the patients who may suddenly find their lives depending on it.
There is no doubt in his mind, he told the councilmen, the existing conditions in EMS transport are inadequate and potentially dangerous.
“We don’t believe we’re getting proper support from the county,” said Murphy. “We don’t believe our people have the tools they need.”
The current system is fragmented, he said, with three different agencies providing parts of the service. Different vehicles are not provided with the same equipment, yet all use the same personnel and are used interchangeably. A private company received the right to transport emergency patients in less than 30 days, he said, while his department has not been allowed to take patients to the hospital.
“It’s astounding,” said Councilman Frank Recker. “We’ve been begging, waiting forever, and they approve a private company” with virtually no delay. “They can hold us to a higher, unreasonable standard?”
City Attorney Burt Saunders confirmed that, yes, counties have control over emergency medical services. Murphy said he, along with Council Vice Chairman Larry Magel and City Manager Jim Riviere, has been working with their counterparts in the City of Naples, and the Naples and North Naples fire departments, trying to devise an alternative to the status quo, that would allow fire department EMT personnel to become involved in patient transportation.
“This is a move to remove ourselves from the county?” concerning EMS, asked Councilman Joe Batte. “In light of the recent tragedy, I think that’s a good thing, but I’m concerned about the cost.
“I think we should move forward, but we need to know, will we be forced to pay the county, and also ask the citizens to pay?”
It would not be a complete wash, said Saunders. “Don’t expect all the money to come back.” He pointed out the county provides EMS services to Marco residents when they are elsewhere in the county.
And, added Chairman Jerry Gibson, “we won’t have a helicopter.”
“Certainly, the county is a backup to us,” said Murphy. “The bottom line is, we’re going to see an elevation of service our residents receive when they call 911.”
After Murphy’s presentation, a somber Bob Rowe took the lectern. “I’m here to speak on behalf of my friend, Paul Anderson,” he said. He took the Council through the morning of October 3, when Anderson died after waiting nearly an hour for an ambulance.
“I personally bear the shame and guilt of failing someone I love like my own father,” said Rowe, “but where does the culpability lie? I believe some involved were guilty of depraved indifference, under Statute 782.04.” Staff arrived late, a med-flight was cancelled, and “I was told to back off, or no one would get transported,” he said.
“Do the right thing. May the good Lord bless my dear friend.”
Diana Dahl added that the citizens of Marco Island deserve more than short-term solutions. A.K. Battaglia choked up, recounting her experience with medical care on Marco when her husband was ill.
“I learned about Urgent Care 15 over 15 years ago,” she said, saying it was not the place to go in a life-threatening emergency. “It should be renamed.”
Gibson had the last word on the subject. “I’m tired of financial people making decisions on health,” he said. “People are dying. We need to do something now to protect our own people’s health.”