Some Prescott Valley area residents say ambulance response times are too long – if one shows up at all

Residents in the Prescott Valley area are voicing concerns about the ambulance service in their area, saying at times, there isn't one available – at all.  

In some cases, residents say they have had to wait up to 30 minutes for an ambulance to respond, even during emergencies.

The slow response times are not only a concern for patients, but Prescott Valley police and firefighters as well.   

Fixing the issue could take some time.

In the Prescott Valley area, two sets of first-responders are typically dispatched to emergency calls: a firefighter crew and an ambulance crew.

Lifeline, a for-profit company, is the only ambulance provider in the area, and their response times are under scrutiny.

Fire chief expresses frustration

In August, the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority (CAFMA) was first to arrive on the scene of an 8-month-old girl who was suffering from cardiac arrest. The ambulance crew stated they were 12 minutes away, but firefighters decided not to wait and transported the girl to where a medical helicopter was expected to arrive in eight minutes.

"We can’t wait on a scene with an 8-month-old infant in that kind of condition," said CAFMA Fire Chief Scott Freitag. "We have to get them to the landing zone."

Freitag says it's become common to wait long periods of time for a Lifeline ambulance and they're now transporting patients themselves.

"What we're running are called ‘rescues,’" said Freitag. "We're not charging for transport, and we're only using them when AMR cannot get to the scene. They can't get there, they have an extended response time and we have a critical patient or non-critical patient with 30 minutes to an hour wait time for the patient."

CAFMA has even borrowed four ambulances from other fire departments.

"We're at a point up here now where this happens so often, that we need to use something appropriate to get the patients to the hospital, and because the state refuses to act, this is the position that we’re in," said Freitag.

CAFMA, however, is not certified by the Arizona Department of Health Services to provide ambulance transport, and now, the state is investigating CAFMA, citing more than a dozen incidents that the state considers "medically unnecessary," including the transport of the 8-month-old suffering cardiac arrest.

"We're trying to provide the best care that we can. That's why we're running the rescues," said Freitag.

Some local residents are taking matters into their own hands

"No ambulance transport. We had to self-transport," said Jason Chisholm.

Chisholm and his family live in Dewey-Humboldt. He says they called 911 after his 90-year-old grandfather became disoriented. At the time, they were told there were no ambulances available, so they drove his grandfather to the emergency room in their pickup.

They didn’t know until they got to the emergency room that something serious happened with his grandfather.

"His heart was out of rhythm, and he was having a heart attack," said Chisholm.

After that, Chisholm lost trust in the ambulance service.

"I'm not confident at all. In fact, I've had the conversation with my family, 'If I need an ambulance, you transport me. I don't want to wait an hour for an ambulance to show up. You transport me,'" said Chisholm.

Company official speaks out

"Our response times are regulated by the Department of Health Services," said Glenn Kasprzyk, President of Global Medical Response. "We remain compliant with response times."

Kasprzyk, the regional boss for Lifeline, says they have remained within the standards outlined in their Certificate of Necessity, issued by AZDHS.

"The way we look at response times is different," said Kasprzyk. "We're not graded by the Department of Health on an average response time. It's using a fractile compliance."

According to AZDHS documents, Lifeline’s response times standards are, for the Prescott and Prescott Valley area, 10 minutes or less for 80% of all emergency calls, and 30 minutes or less for 98% of all calls. According to state standards, it is acceptable for Lifeline crews to take up to 30 minutes in urban areas to arrive at the scene after being dispatched. In rural areas, the response time standards is up to 90 minutes.

The state doesn’t have a standard response time: it is different for every certified fire department and ambulance provider.

"Now at times, will you have response times that are variable in a particular area? That is absolutely possible. There's 11 units typically assigned to the quad cities area," said Kasprzyk.

The 11 ambulances cover nearly 9,000 square miles. Officials with Lifeline say it has reached out to CAFMA in an effort to form a private/public partnership.

"This matter seems to be an issue with the fire chief. You have to ask him why he’s unwilling to work directly with AMR," said Kasprzyk.

"AMR has tried to get me to sign a contract with them. I won't do that. I don't think it’s necessary. Signing that won't magically make more units appear, or more staff appear," said Kasprzyk.

Solution could take some time

It is the Department of Health Services' job to address response time issues and to certify more ambulance providers. CAFMA, along with one other private company, are currently both seeking to get certified, but the process could take up to two years.

AZDHS officials declined an on-camera interview for this story, but released a statement, saying, in part:

"ADHS cannot comment on open investigations. ADHS continues to review response times, in addition to resource levels, to ensure that there are no gaps in service."

Prescott area residents will have to wait for CAFMA, Lifeline and the state to agree on solutions. Until then, they may also continue to wait longer for an ambulance to arrive when their life is on the line.

Other Only On FOX Special Reports

Tune in to FOX 10 Phoenix for the latest news

For the latest local news, download the FOX 10 News app

Sign up for FOX 10 email alerts, newsletters