READY: Loss of a service, loss of a life

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Mary Ready

The ambulance bills for my late husband are stacked up on my desk.

To my shock, the last two bills (of nearly $2,000) weren’t paid by Medicare or his secondary insurance because he was on Hospice. That’s some of the fine print I overlooked.  Oddly enough, some years ago, when the typical ambulance run for the same distance was a little over a hundred dollars, we were billed for three incidents, totaling $326.84. Assuming insurance would pay, I let the bill go until I got nasty letters from a collection agency. So I paid the amount in full. Almost a year later, after I had totally forgotten about it, I received a check from Okaloosa Clerk of Court’s Office, refunding $201.84 of the bill. I’m still scratching my head over that. Apparently the refund was some kind of one-time fluke. Currently, I’m hoping to work out some arrangement that gives me into the next decade to complete payment.

But still I’m puzzled. My tax bill reflects a fee for EMS services, so I’m wondering why a tax paying citizen of Destin residing in Okaloosa County would get such a large ambulance transport bill after already paying taxes for EMS services. The last two runs from my home to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center were $995 each.

Granted, the excellent service we received deserves compensation, but why so much?

We also received excellent service from Destin’s fire fighters who are known as “first responders” for good reason.

 For the long months that Frank was so ill, either I or the nursing home called 911 multiple times. The fire truck always arrived within minutes, with a team of paramedics who efficiently took charge of my husband’s medical needs and prepared him for transport to the hospital. The team was courteous, competent, and compassionate. In several instances, I believe the first response paramedics saved his life.

But after Oct. 1, 2014, Destin’s fire fighters will no longer provide medical services to citizens whose very lives may depend on their timely arrival and skill. The Board of Fire Commissioners, in trying to cut expenses, has made a decision which may cost lives.

And, no, I have no wisdom to offer on this issue. If I did, I’d be a professional firefighter, a commissioner, a council member, or someone else of political influence.

I’m just a citizen who has seen the life-saving service of Destin’s paramedics.

Having just battled with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the State Department of Revenue, I have read page after page of Florida State Statutes. 

And unless I’m reading it wrong, Section 401. 23 mandates basic and advanced life support.

The statute specifies treatment of life-threatening medical emergencies through the use of techniques such as endotracheal intubation, the administration of drugs or intravenous fluids, telemetry, cardiac monitoring, and cardiac defibrillation by a qualified person, pursuant to rules of the department.

My husband required most of these techniques on several occasions before the ambulance even arrived.

And that’s not to criticize the ambulance service. My understanding is that the county designates only one ambulance in Destin for most of the year. It carries one paramedic and one EMT who is not trained in some of the very techniques for which Destin’s paramedics have had extensive training. I know by experience that a busy Saturday night might mean a long wait for the ambulance, but the paramedic team stayed with us every moment, taking care of my husband during the waiting.

After September, Destin’s citizens may have to wait a long time for emergency medical help if there are multiple calls. The Destin Fire Department paramedics won’t be allowed to assist even though they are highly trained in emergency medical care and critical cardiac intervention.

Can’t the city of Destin help?

Thankfully, the funds were found to buy out the strip club.  That price tag was much higher at $4 million dollars than a supplemental contribution to the Fire Control budget. At least in a similar amount as is set aside for the beach safety program.

Where Destin’s residents and visitors are concerned, safety is safety. Whether on the beach or in our own homes, monetary priorities should be assigned to protect human life. 

Since I wanted to get to our city’s heart, I did a search for its mission statement. Oddly enough, the Building Department’s promise said it best for me. It pledges to “provide efficient and responsive services, which enhance the quality of life and promote a safe and healthy community.”

The Board of Destin’s Fire Control Commissioners would do well to adopt that same mission statement.

When it’s time to vote for new commissioners to the Board of Fire Control on November 4, I’m going to be more interested in the candidates as I never was before. I’m going to support candidates who are invested in finding a solution, one that will serve the life-saving interests of Destin’s citizens.

I hope other voters will be like-minded.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.