County to city: You don't need a second ambulance

Lisa Conley
Marco Eagle

The Marco Island City Council’s argument regarding its need for a COPCN got jammed by the county’s statistics regarding the city’s current level of service.

Marco Island firefighters respond to a medical emergency in this file photo. The Marco Island City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to apply for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN), which would put the city in charge of its own ambulance services.

Council has discussed applying for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN) – which would allow the city to provide its own ambulance service should the county decide to reallocate its resources elsewhere – for years.

Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy has been vocal in his support of applying for a COPCN, making the argument that as it currently stands, Marco Island is not receiving quality service from the county, and consolidation would only make matters worse.

However, some of the councilors, and county commissioners, have rejected the notion that Marco Island is receiving subpar service. Tabatha Butcher, Collier County's Emergency Medical Services (EMS) chief agreed, and had the facts to back it up.

“In looking at the response times countywide, Marco actually has the second highest response time in the county,” she said at Monday's council meeting. “I feel we’re meeting and exceeding our level of service standard.”

More:Collier County, Marco Island officials meet for first time in a few years

One of the big reasons why many on Marco, including Murphy, want a COPCN is because the current system does not allow the city’s fire-rescue personnel to transport patients to the hospital, forcing them to wait for a county ambulance to arrive at the scene.

That would change if the city obtained a COPCN, which would also allow the city to determine the number of ambulances it wants on the island. The city currently has one full-time ambulance and one seasonal ambulance, but has been fighting for a second full-time ambulance.

Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy

More:Consultant recommends city move forward with COPCN

A second ambulance would help improve EMS response time, which is important because, according to Murphy, the four to eight minute response time the county frequently boasts doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

“The issue that really we are trying to improve upon is patient contact, not response time,” he said at the May 17 City Council budget meeting. “The eight minute response time the county uses … is the travel time from the front of the fire station to the front of the building (but) if you’re on the tenth floor of a high-rise, you can add four more minutes to that.”

Yet Butcher said a second ambulance would not result in an increased level of service, and it certainly wouldn't solve the issue of reaching high-rise residents.

"It doesn't matter who shows up; it's going to take the same amount of time to walk up the stairs or the elevator," she said, "so adding an ambulance is not going to fix that problem, unfortunately."

The county recently denied the city's request for a second full-time ambulance because the facts don't support the need for one. 

"The response time that is achieved with the fire district .. .is going to be the best response time you're going to get," Butcher said. "We don't see a need to add an additional ambulance to Marco. We're exceeding our level of service standard and when I'm asked by my superiors, 'Would you recommend this?' I cannot show there's a need to add an ambulance to Marco when you have the second highest response time throughout the whole county."

With the denial of a second ambulance, the city has two remaining options when it comes to improving its EMS services: obtain a COPCN, which currently requires the county's approval, or amend state law so that municipalities rather than counties have the power to grant COPCNs.

"Right now, if we don’t work something out with the county, if we don’t get their permission, we get nothing," Vice-Chair Jared Grifoni said at a June 5 council meeting. "This allows us the opportunity to maneuver and make sure we deliver the best possible services to the citizens of Marco Island.”