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Editorial: Ambulance response times better, not great

Ambulance response time in the City of Buffalo has improved significantly, but that doesn’t mean the private company contracted to provide the service should take its foot off the gas pedal. Or that City of Buffalo officials should lose their focus on the issue.

American Medical Response is now meeting contract terms requiring an ambulance to arrive in less than nine minutes at least 90 percent of the time on life-threatening emergency calls. Nine minutes is an awfully long time to wait in an emergency, and it’s shocking that it is acceptable for 10 percent of calls to have even longer waits. A few minutes can make a big diference.

While emergency response times have improved by two minutes over the last six months, they never should have been so dangerously below the mark. Unfortunately, city residents are not unfamiliar with long waits for an ambulance.

Just a few years ago, AMR tried to replace Rural/Metro as Buffalo’s provider of emergency services and pointed to the latter’s deficient response times. The war between the two services competing for the city contract at times became ugly.

Then Envision Healthcare Holdings, parent company of AMR, purchased Rural/Metro. But instead of the situation improving, Rural/Metro vehicles operated by AMR continued to post unacceptable response times, sometimes reaching the nine-minute goal just 60 percent of the time. Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield said that the company is now, at times, exceeding that 90 percent mark.

Company and city officials credit the improvement to AMR’s hiring of 100 additional staffers, adding 20 vehicles to its ambulance fleet and increasing the number of hours ambulances are on the road.
More efficiencies are expected as AMR and the city partner on a two-way data communications link between the company and the city’s ambulance dispatch communications centers.

Let’s hope that this news marks the end of unconscionably long wait times that must feel endless to those in distress.  Next the city and AMR should work on reducing the on-time goal to well under under nine minutes. As the only game in town, AMR has a responsibility to Buffalo residents.

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