Illinois Department Refuses Non-Emergency Lift Of 700lb. Patient

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DEAN OLSEN
The State Journal-Register

A Rockford-area ambulance company owner is calling the Springfield Fire Department unprofessional and insensitive after the department refused to help the company's paramedics lift a 700-pound patient into her Springfield home after she was discharged from a northern Illinois hospital Friday.

"I was just stunned at that overall attitude," said Robert Esmond, owner of Mercy Ambulance Service in Loves Park. "To me, it's short-changing the citizens. There shouldn't be problems with agencies helping each other out."

Esmond said he never before was refused free assistance from a municipal fire department when his paramedics needed help lifting an obese patient into the patient's house.

Department Policy

Deputy Springfield Fire Chief Greg Surbeck said department policy requires that requests to help lift, transfer or transport patients in non-emergencies be turned down. The policy dates from March 2009, he said.

Several firefighters had received workers' compensation because of back injuries suffered while lifting obese patients under those circumstances, he said.

In one sense, Surbeck said he empathized with Esmond, because the fire department and medical-transport organizations are dealing with the ramifications of a nationwide epidemic of obesity.

Esmond said he has transported discharged patients to their homes in Rockford, Chicago's suburbs and several downstate communities. Fire departments in those towns have been willing to spare several workers, at no charge, for the 15 or 20 minutes it takes to safely move an obese patient into his or her home, he said.

Surbeck said he would be surprised if Springfield's policy is unique, adding that it's unfair for the owner of a for-profit company to criticize a tax-supported fire department.

'Sweet Deal'

"How is that the taxpayers' problem?" asked Surbeck, a paramedic and former ambulance service employee. "He's got a sweet deal going - he's got free labor."

Surbeck said the Springfield department focuses on emergency services and making firefighters and paramedics available for fires and health-related emergencies.

Esmond said Medicare and Medicaid, which often cover patients Mercy Ambulance transports, don't pay him enough to justify sending more vehicles to help the two paramedics in a single ambulance.

"We're sympathetic," Surbeck said. "We all have large friends and family members."

However, he said, "A private business accepts a certain amount of risk."

Esmond said Springfield's department should make an exception for out-of-town transport companies that have a hard time arranging for other assistance.

"It's not like it takes a lot of time or resources," he said.

Esmond said 15 minutes of several firefighters' time is all that would have been required.

But Surbeck said transferring a 700-pound patient probably would have required six of his firefighters to work with Esmond's two paramedics for an hour.

Local Firm Responds

After several attempts, Esmond was able to make arrangements with a Springfield-based ambulance company that was planning to meet Esmond's two paramedics Friday night and help move the patient.

Esmond said he hoped the Springfield company would help at no charge. Otherwise, he said the patient, who is covered by Medicaid and Medicare, might be stuck with a bill not covered by either program.

The 42-year-old patient didn't want her name published, according to her brother, Andy Johnson of Springfield. Johnson said his sister is moving into his mobile home after a three-week stay at Kindred Hospital-Sycamore.

She has chronic health problems and was recovering from an infection, he said.

Johnson's sister previously lived with another sister in Sherman, he said. After previous hospitalizations, Sherman firefighters always helped transport workers lift her into the house, Johnson said.

But he said he understood the reasons behind the Springfield Fire Department's policy.

Copyright 2010 The State Journal- Register
All Rights Reserved
September 4, 2010

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I agree with you Ted.
Hell, I never knew "Refusal" was an option!!! If I had, I would bet that my knees and back would be in a lot better shape today!!

Does my Chief know about this Refusal thing?

TCSS

Reg
We help our EMS provider when they call, emergency or not. Professional courtesy, they do the same for us, I.e. stand bys at Structure fires. Do you think EMS wants to sit on a 4 hour fire? They do it anyway. Just the same for us, we would rather be "first squirt" at the fire than lifting and loading someone, but its part of the duty that we took an oath on. If you are worried about injuries, get one of those fancy bariatric cots, powered and call for manpower. Help your fellow man.
As a reader and armchair replier, I have to say that FDs should be doing everything within their arsenal in way of customer service. With that said, I have to say that policy is policy, "Deputy Springfield Fire Chief Greg Surbeck said department policy requires that requests to help lift, transfer or transport patients in non-emergencies be turned down. The policy dates from March 2009, he said."

For right or wrong, they have policy in place and if they disregard it what other policies do they ignore? FDs around the nation are struggling where they are closing/browning out stations and/or laying off staff. Other departments are implementing policy where they no longer provide certain services, or charge for them. We are in some of the most depressed times in many of our lives and I do not think the bottom has been felt yet. We need to educate the public on what public safety cuts in the budget means to them. I know this story isn't hinged on the economy but parallel stories are echoed around the nation because of it.
I.e. stand bys at Structure fires. Do you think EMS wants to sit on a 4 hour fire?

I do believe there is an EMS requirement for fires and this is perhaps part of their regular duties.

If you are worried about injuries, get one of those fancy bariatric cots, powered and call for manpower. Help your fellow man.

Easy to say. The power cot is OK, but it is still a heavy lift. The issue about injuries is absolutely a valid concern. There have been many injuries due to lifting and if a dept institutes a policy not to do non-emergency lifts, then they are proetcting personnel, especially when a private company is profitting from taxpayer labor. An emergency situation is one thing, bit different when a private company is looking for extra help and not paying for it.
FDs around the nation are struggling where they are closing/browning out stations and/or laying off staff. Other departments are implementing policy where they no longer provide certain services, or charge for them....We need to educate the public on what public safety cuts in the budget means to them

I agree, this just goes to show the issues when it does come to reductions. I don't know the details of the FD but say they ran 3 man companies, to "SAFELY" do this lift, that is 2 companies which would be out of service for about an hour, because a private company didn't plan accordinly. I agree that this is stuff the public needs to know that some services can not be performed safely without impacting other citizens.
I have taken people up and down multiple flights of stairs in my career. Can't remember any of my fellow ff's enjoying it but we did it anyway. It's called customer service and if your department doesn't understand that, it will when it comes time for needing public support for raises. If you don't have the citizens behind you then you will have some serious problems in the future especially with many municipalities struggling to find money for services. You need the citizens on your side.
The article almost reads more like a public vs private issue, not a safety issue or anything else.
Actually this brings up another question, how come when we drive the paid ambulance to the hospital for free, then when we need them to transport a firefighter hurt from call they send a bill. Seams like a double standard. Now please don't get excited the personel are the best its just the billing dept. I think we should start billing the paid ambulance companys. After all they sure bill the Patient and make money at it.

Just my thoughts, be safe.
Wayne
well a catch-22 for sure,
first let me start by saying mr esmond keeps emphasizing free assistance,spare several ff;s @ no charge
esmond states medicare/medicaid dont pay him enough to justify manpower assist from his own people,
he finally suckered another private co. too come out and help his guy's at no charge.
first he obviously does not know billing procedure's for medicaid/medicare,
he can get man power assist paid he is being cheap and prob is billing it that way
he is in the private ambulance service he knows he has to take a hit every once in awhile espically on those type of calls again being cheap
if he really wanted f.d. help he would of shared ssn and medicare/medicaid # so f.d. could bill or paid f.d. himself or done something for the f.d. for their help

i was involved in private ems indrusty over 25yrs and their are alot of things you can get paid for if you bill it properly, i understand the fire dept had their policy to uphold but i also do think something could've been worked out in the start
but as we see another private co came to the rescue of the 2 medic's stranded on scene at no charge because their employer diden't care enough about his business
100% right wayne
As a current professional firefighter/paramedic our department never denies a lift assist request from a resident or senior living center in our city but I do believe the chief or officer would deny that request from a private ambulance service in a non-emergency situation.
As a former employee of the "private" ambulance service I feel I have the right to throw in my 2 cents. Let's remember that 99% of the time "private" should be replaced by "For Profit".
So Mr. Esmond, my questions to you; Were you going to offer the Springfield Fire Department a kick back from this run? If any of the members of the fire department were to get injured on this non emergency run would your company cover the workmens comp? No you wouldn't, and if the Springfield Fire Department sent you a bill you would charge that to the patient and or their insurance, plus maybe a little extra because how dare the fire department bill you for services. Also, if I was a betting man, I would say the reason your ambulance company didn't have the manpower to help their own is because you didn't want to breakaway any crews from your nursing home and hospital transfers. Don't wanna be late for that hospital sling or they may call another ambulance company. As we all know "Profit is #1". Hey, that would look great on the back of your rigs;
"Mercy Ambulance Service, Where Profit is #1"
Here is my final thought for you Mr. Esmond. You call 911 because your house is on fire or one of your family members is sick or injured. The crew assigned to your area of town, if the station has not been closed and a number of the firefighters laid off because of budget cuts, are delayed or out of service because they are on a non emergency lift assist for a private ambulance company. The next closest fire station is 10-15 minutes across town in good traffic but that is only if that station is opened and manned.
Now who is being unprofessional.

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