FLUSHING — According to a recent study conducted by Flushing City Manager Clarence Goodlein, solving the issues behind prolonged emergency response times in the city will not be an easy task.
Goodlein, who launched an investigation into delayed EMS response times last month, shared details of his study with city council members at the Aug. 9 meeting. In his report to the council, Goodlein listed the causes behind lengthy EMS response times and the barriers the city faces in reducing those times.
Goodlein said that the study’s data, which was gathered from Jan. 1, 2018, to June 30, 2021, enabled city administration to examine the differences between arrivals from advanced-life support (ALS) EMS units and basic-life-support (BLS) units.
Based on data from Genesee County 911 Emergency Dispatch Services, response times from ALS units in Flushing varied between 6 minutes, 51 seconds at best to 13 minutes, 56 seconds at worst, with the average response time coming in at 9 minutes, 57 seconds. BLS unit response times ranged from 9 minutes, 50 seconds to 16 minutes, 1 second, with an average time of 12 minutes, 19 seconds.
Goodlein said that while emergency response times in Flushing aren’t significantly greater than other Genesee County communities, the city’s average length for ambulance arrivals alone poses a great risk for residents facing critical (Tier 1) medical emergencies.
“All those response times are terrible in my opinion,” Goodlein said. “Especially in an ALS situation, once you start getting beyond four minutes, every second is critical and life-threatening.”
Goodlein said that based on his conversations with public safety personnel in the county, there simply aren’t enough EMS units available at any given time to reduce emergency response times. He also said that private EMS companies are having a difficult time retaining paramedics and attracting recruits with sustainable employment packages.
“EMS companies are tremendously expensive to run, between the equipment expenses, mandatory training for employees and regulations that they must follow,” Goodlein said. “On top of that, the way revenue comes to the EMS providers from Medicaid and Medicare has not changed in 20 years.”
Under current Genesee County Emergency Dispatch policy, EMS units can be dispatched to anywhere in the county if they’re the only unit available to respond to a medical emergency. Goodlein said that this policy poses a hurdle for reducing emergency response times, given the limited number of ALS and BLS units that are available from EMS providers.
Currently, the City of Fenton is the only municipality in the county that has its own 911 emergency dispatch system. Every other county community must rely on Genesee County 911 as a public-safety-answering-point (PSAP).
Goodlein said that Flushing could explore options for contracting with a single EMS provider, as the City of Davison, Davison Township and Richfield Township have done recently with Medstar Ambulance. He also proposed that the city could entertain the idea of establishing its own 911 emergency dispatch center but added that the latter route would be very expensive for the city.
“From the city’s perspective, there isn’t terribly much we can do to improve the response times of EMS services right now,” Goodlein said. “These are just the circumstances that we face.”
Flushing Mayor Joseph Karlichek, who is a member of the Genesee County 911 Consortium Board, said that Genesee County 911 will be considering whether to adopt a policy that would officially allow individual communities to contract exclusively with private EMS providers. He said that he would update the city council on Genesee County 911’s decision following the Consortium Board’s Sept. 14 meeting.