Multiple calls delay ambulances

Top doc: Crews doing their best

Though
it took a Health Services Authority ambulance about 20 minutes to reach a man
who suffered severe head injuries in a watercraft accident Sunday in South
Sound, hospital officials said the delay was not a factor in the man’s death.

“His
injuries were so severe that, even if the accident had happened in the parking
lot of the HSA (Health Services Authority), the outcome would not have been
different,” Chief Medical Officer Greg Hoeksema said Tuesday.

Mark
Lopez, 20, died Sunday after being transported to the Cayman Islands Hospital
in George Town from the South Sound dock.

The
delay in response was partly due to the fact that the ambulance stationed in
George Town was out on another call – an air ambulance transport request. That
ambulance also had a flat tyre while out on the call, health officials said. As
a result, a back-up ambulance was called, and in this case, it was from West
Bay.

Regarding
the George Town ambulance, Mr. Hoeksema said: “Air ambulance means they were
transporting a patient. The ambulance picks up the air transport crew from the
airport and brings them to the hospital. The 911 call (for the watercraft
incident) happened while they were at the hospital prepping the patient to go
to the airport.

“The
crew went down to the ambulance to respond and found the tyre was deflating due
to a nail puncture. It was an unfortunate coincidence in time, but this is why
we have back-up contingency plans.”

Dispatchers
contacted the next available unit, which turned out to be the West Bay-based
ambulance crew. According to Mr. Hoeksema, that unit was out on a call as well
and had to turn around to respond to the South Sound incident.

“Based
on what the crew heard on the (emergency) radio…they made a judgment call to
divert from the initial call to attend to the trauma victim,” Mr. Hoeksema said,
adding that the initial call for the West Bay ambulance was not trauma-related.

A
third ambulance, stationed at the North Sound clinic, also heard the emergency
traffic on the radio and decided to respond to the incident in South Sound.

The
call about the watercraft accident first went out at 3.45pm. The West Bay
ambulance arrived at 4.05pm; the North Sound crew got there two minutes later
at 4.07pm.

“With
our three active ambulance crews, there are circumstances like this, that come
up infrequently, where the response time is longer than typical as a result of
an ambulance being on another call,” Mr. Hoeksema said.

The
average ambulance response time to calls on Grand Cayman is about seven
minutes, he said.

“We
always strive to make the response as quick as possible,” Mr. Hoeksema said.

Sunday’s
incident spotlights the potential difficulties emergency medical responders can
get into with only three ambulances available to cover the entirety of Grand Cayman.

An
emergency medical services study done several years ago recommended that a
fourth on-duty ambulance on each shift be placed in Bodden Town. The fourth
medical transport unit was expected to be brought in when the Bodden Town
Emergency Centre came on line. 

However,
the construction of that project – a massive police, fire and emergency
services hub – was placed on hold last year because of government budget
constraints.

Even
with a fourth ambulance on shift, Mr. Hoeksema said, multiple calls can delay
ambulance responses, depending on where they occur.

“There
will still be times when we have to call the West Bay ambulance into town,” he
said.

Despite
the difficulties on Sunday, Mr. Hoeksema congratulated HSA ambulance crews for
their sterling efforts on a difficult job. He said ambulance crews worked
quickly to stabilise the gravely injured Mr. Lopez and transport him to
hospital with all speed.

“I
really can’t be disappointed with their response,” he said.

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