Share this article

print logo

Rural/Metro must deliver on promises of improved ambulance response times

Members of the Buffalo Common Council may not know all the details involving emergency medical services, but they are clear on this much: Ambulances are still taking too long to respond to some calls.

It’s a problem that demands an immediate solution.

The situation was outlined in a recent story in The News. City lawmakers complained, appropriately, that, “It took more than nine minutes for an ambulance to arrive after two police cars collided, flipping one onto its roof,” and in another case, “It took over an hour for an ambulance to arrive when an infant with a 105-degree temperature needed a ride to the hospital,” and, “A Riverside High School football player waited an hour for an ambulance after breaking his leg.”

No one would want to be a victim in any of the above situations, nor see his loved ones suffering. The explanations offered by Rural/Metro fall flat, ranging from a nonemergency transport “cold call” in the case of the infant to claiming the wait was “well within contractual response-time parameters for that type of call,” in the case of the crashed police cars. The company could not find any record of other incidents cited by Council members.

Rural/Metro officials might want to revisit past promises of improved service. Slow response time has been a frequent complaint by some lawmakers. South District representative Christopher P. Scanlon put his criticism of Rural/Metro in an Another Voice column he wrote last year for The Buffalo News. He said the national standard for ambulance response is eight minutes for emergency calls, compared to “documented cases” here that showed 13- to 20-plus minute waits for a Rural/Metro ambulance to arrive.

Most recently, North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. raised the issue of the injured football player: “The kid is hurting, laying on the ground in agony. To have to wait 30, 40, 50 minutes is unconscionable.”

Every minute that ticks by undoubtedly feels like hours. Some cases necessarily must wait while more-severe emergencies are attended to. But when the situation rises from the level of the exception to chronic, people become frustrated.

Things are supposed to get better. A few months ago, the city agreed to a new ambulance services contract with Rural/Metro that will result in more ambulances on the street, along with penalties for missing goals. The five-year contract with the company, still the city’s exclusive ambulance provider, goes into effect Oct. 1.

At the very least, meeting the higher standards should be the norm. It is especially important because Rural/Metro continues to be the only choice. It is being purchased by its chief rival, Envision Healthcare Holdings, parent company of American Medical Response Inc., which unsuccessfully bid to replace Rural/Metro.

The acquisition, according to a Rural/Metro official in Buffalo, will not affect Rural/Metro’s Buffalo contract. Still, Envision, which operates in 41 states, will be making its first foray into New York with its Buffalo operation.

All the more reason to be diligent about delivering on promises of high standards.