A McAllen TEXAS woman says slow ambulance response times could have serious consequences for her elderly, disabled aunt.
Sandy Villegas said the delays have happened before. She called 5 On Your Side for help.
The city of McAllen has a contract with Med-Care EMS for ambulance services. Fire and ambulance officials admit there has been a slight slowdown in the private company’s response times recently. Still, the company is meeting established standards under its contract with the city.
Villegas said Med-Care EMS has been slow to show up three times. The last time it took 1 hour and 4 minutes, she said.
“If your blood pressure is at 215 to where you can have an embolism, you know what, that will become life-threatening,” Villegas said.
“It upsets me that it takes 45 minutes to over an hour to get out here. We’re part of McAllen,” the woman said.
Med-Care EMS gave CHANNEL 5 NEWS access to its dispatch center. Operations Director Mark Gilbert admits to the 1-hour-4-minute response time to the Villegas home.
“All three times our units were on calls, tied up at the hospital,” he said.
Villegas’ call was classified as a priority two, based on the symptoms she gave the dispatcher.
McAllen’s Assistant Fire Chief Jim Schultz said Med-Care EMS has kept the city’s emergency services contract for 10 years.
“A priority-one call is anything that’s immediately life-threatening. That can be a stabbing, a shooting, an airway problem, a cardiac problem. A priority two is anything else that can wait and is not as immediate,” Schultz said.
“I hate to say it, when people call they want priority one every time, and that just can’t happen,” Schultz said.
Schultz said there has been a slight slowdown in response times recently. One of the reasons is that when ambulances take patients to hospitals they have to wait for staff there to admit the person before they can respond to the next call.
Schultz said this winter several people called ambulances complaining of H1N1 virus symptoms.
“If there’s some sort of medical alert out to the general public, a lot of people will take that, and instead of just visiting their doctor, they sometimes take a trip to the hospital in an ambulance,” he said.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS asked for reports Med-Care EMS submitted to the city for the past three months. The reports do not show times for individual calls.
Under the contract, the company is required to respond to at least 90 percent of all the calls in less than 8 minutes in any given month. The recent reports show that Med-Care EMS is meeting the standard.
Still, that is of little comfort for Villegas.
“Are you going to wait until she actually has an aneurysm, until she actually is having convulsions, until somebody actually dies?” Villegas said.
“I see her perspective, and all I can tell her … and the general public is that this is something that we work on every day to increase our response times,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said a glitch with Google Maps led to problems for ambulance drivers trying to find the Villegas home recently.
The contract with the city requires Med-Care EMS to have at least four ambulances in service at all times. Gilbert said they sometimes have more than four units in operation.

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