The Cayman Islands Hospital is preparing to order a new ambulance from a U.S. manufacturer, finalizing specifications for the fresh equipment after the springtime completion of a $150,000 fundraising effort.
Stephen Duval, emergency medical services manager at the Health Services Authority, said a rough timetable would see the new vehicle enter service at the latest in January, although possibly this autumn. “Going through the specifications,” he said, “is such a tedious thing.”
“From start to finish, manufacturers usually predict a build time of approximately 120 days or four months. This entail[s] approving specs, ordering the chassis, building the module, physical inspection and then shipping,” Mr. Duval said.
Ambulance costs vary significantly, between $80,000 and $250,000, he said, based on model of service, vehicle size, manufactory and design.
Health Services Authority planners were talking to “both our local Chevy and Ford dealerships, as well as our overseas U.S. vendors for parts and support,” he said.
The hospital has typically used U.S. manufacturers – as opposed to European, South American or Japanese – for local emergency vehicles. Additionally, training of local emergency-medical personnel has always been in U.S.-based courses using U.S. equipment.
The new ambulance, Mr. Duval said, “will be very similar to our existing units, especially in its size and shape” and are referred to in the industry as a “Type 3 Ambulance.”
The HSA normally operates five ambulances, but two are more than a decade old and need to be replaced. Mr. Duval said emergency services used two older E450 Ford vehicles, purchased between 2001 and 2004, as backup when one of the newer ambulances – two bought in 2009 and a third in 2014 – undergoes maintenance after 120,000 miles, “when costs go through the roof,” he said.
Costs for a U.S.-made ambulance have risen more than 27 percent in the last 10 years, when the HSA paid $110,000 for each of its diesel-powered Fords. While the pair was placed in a supplementary role after the 2009 acquisition of the US$150,000, gasoline-powered Chevrolet “Trauma Hawks,” followed by a third five years later, both older vehicles still have to be replaced.
“With each new purchase our objective is to ensure a number of key factors: managed cost, best and improved ergonomics for both the patient and staff alike, safety and design, dependability and the option of retrofitting for future upgrades,” Mr. Duval said.
He described some of specifications planners were studying, apart from size and type. Considerations involved such detail as selecting among alternators as part of the engine and macro-features such the type of chassis; light emitting diodes and halogen lamps for external and internal illumination; equipment to ease vehicle access and avoid physical problems for emergency personal; how doors open, inverters to enable electronic equipment to operate and recharge; sufficient space for staff to stand and work with patients; and rear-view cameras for added visibility.
“Some of the impressive new features [added] to what we already have,” Mr. Duval said, “will be a power-loading stretcher system, which will minimize the potential risk of back injuries for our providers while lifting and handling.
“We are currently fine-tuning the quotes and specs received to ensure the vehicle is specific to our needs.”
While new technology and improved design boost the cost of a new ambulance, expenses are halved by retrofitting the vehicles after five years, Mr. Duval said.
“With all of our new units, the current models, we have opted for a retrofitting process where, as an example, after they have reached the end of their useful life expectancy, they are sent back to the U.S. to have a new chassis installed and the module upgraded as per required,” he said.
“This option replaces the need to purchase a new ambulance [at a significantly higher cost] … and at the same time there isn’t a need for disposal.
“Two of our older units will be taken out of service, other options may be identified if financially suitable, however, it would not be for primary emergency care.”
The Cayman Heart Fund has led fundraising since identifying the need in spring 2015 as part of its annual charity effort. At the time, Heart Fund Chairman David Dinner predicted the group would need one year to find sufficient resources.
The project started with $15,000 from the fund’s corporate sponsors, then gained $16,000 from the May 18, 2015, Camana Bay walk/run. Corporate sponsors at September’s World Health Day contributed another $25,000, while the Feb. 19 Red Dress gala raised another $57,000, although divided among a handful of causes.
The March 2016, $50-per-plate Ruby Red Luncheon and same-day Women’s Expo advanced fundraising again, finishing finally at the May 16, Discovery Day 5K walk/run under the aegis of Deputy Governor Franz Manderson.
“That completed the effort with about $60,000,” Mr. Dinner said.
Heart Fund founder and Chairwoman Emeritus Suzy Soto was thrilled: “It’s great news and we are very excited. The associated new equipment will improve cardiac care and get patients faster to the facilities that can best help them. I am very excited.”