One month after Trans-Care replaced Athens as the county's ambulance service, the new provider is working out transitional lumps and bumps to find its place in Clay County.
Temporarily headquartered in Clay County at a motel, the ambulance service is now set up in Athens' previous home at St. Vincent Clay Hospital. A second team is set up at Clay City, and paramedic service throughout the county is scheduled to begin today.
"I'm hoping that will be the real change the community's looking for. We've just been working through a typical transition as you would with any new service," said Billie Jo Fritch, Director of Clinical Services at St. Vincent Clay Hospital. "We're kind of taking it a day at a time. I think the big change will be paramedic service. We're just working through the bugs as we go along.
"The key to a smooth transition is good communication. We have met with them (Trans-Care personnel) continuously. We will just continue to be in contact with them."
Hospital personnel will continue to meet regularly with Trans-Care employees to ensure operations move forward without unnecessary complications.
"We're indeed very excited about having paramedic service. I would say that we are running about normal capacity for us," Fritch said of the numerous calls that came in immediately following the midnight switch on New Year's Eve. "It may have been a little bit of a surprise to them. We're running at a normal volume."
The short period of time between the date the contract was signed in late December and when Trans-Care took over necessitated a rapid hand-off of duties, she noted. "That didn't allow any extra time to beef up their staff."
But the ambulance service is steadily being brought up to speed, and clear communication with the hospital, medical staff, law enforcement and firefighters has enhanced progress, Trans-Care President Russell Ferrell explained to The Brazil Times.
"We have our bumps and bruises. We were overwhelmed our first two days of business. Six days isn't much time," he said.
Trans-Care has been outfitting and updating Clay County's ambulances at its Terre Haute service center, and is waiting on the state to recertify them for use by Trans-Care. While Athens did an excellent job, the former ambulance service did not have the same tools Trans-Care will have in the near future, Ferrell noted.
"We're spending a lot of money and time to make sure they're safe, secure and trustworthy," he said. "The average person thinks an ambulance is an ambulance. It'll be bringing the E.R. to them."
One ambulance is at Brazil while another is at Clay City. Residents may be accustomed to seeing more ambulances, Ferrell said, but other ambulances are roaming and could possibly arrive earlier than if left sitting in a parking area.
"More than once there have been four ambulances at the scene," he said.
For an annual fee, Clay County residents will also be able to participate in the Trans-Care Secure Care subscription program, which, Ferrell said, is designed to defray out-of-pocket ambulance costs for patients. The program is already in place in Vigo County.
Trans-Care Operations Manager Faril Ward said Trans-Care will conduct a luncheon meeting with dispatchers from the Clay County Sheriff's Dept. to discuss connectivity and other issues later this month. Clay County emergency workers are just getting used to working with each other, and communications continue to improve.
"We met with more than half of the volunteer fire departments," Ward said, and each has been clarifying its expectations, and each group is determining the most beneficial methods of working together. "It's been hectic, but it's beginning to calm down."
Examining real-life situations has also been crucial to growth and improvement, Ferrell pointed out, which is why constructive criticism has been as useful as praise.
"We'd rather be proactive than reactive," he said. "We're experiencing good results, and that's exactly what we're looking for."
Consistency has also been a priority, and Ferrell said Trans-Care has retained the previous employee rotation. All Athens employees were offered positions with the new ambulance service. Three of them applied, and all three joined the Trans-Care staff.
"We look at that as positive. We hired 100 percent of those who applied. We tried to keep it simple wherever possible," Ferrell said. "The crews are excited about it. They want to get to know you on a first-name basis as they have in the past."
Although Commissioners Charlie Brown and David Parr couldn't be reached for comment, Commissioner Daryl Andrews told The Brazil Times the ambulance service transition has been characterized by its seamlessness. He and Parr traveled to the dispatch center at Terre Haute to tour the provider's headquarters. While he has been pleased with the efforts of Trans-Care employees, he also credits the success of the switch to the former ambulance service.
"Athens actually got out a little sooner than they had to, and we certainly appreciate that," Andrews said. "From a commissioner's standpoint, we're very happy with the transition."
While there have been a few bumps and hiccups, the problems have been rectified. Trans-Care continues to meet with county medical professionals to achieve a maximum level of high-quality communication. Ambulance workers also assess what went well and analyze mistakes to determine how the run could go better next time.
"We only gave them six days from the time (the contract was signed to when) we put them on the street," said Andrews. "With that in mind, we've been pleasantly surprised at how smooth it's gone."
The average response time is down to six and a half minutes with more than 200 runs for the year, and weekly discussions take place to keep the Commissioners abreast of the statistics, he explained. "Things are going real well. We're real excited about those numbers.
"It took off fairly smooth. From the time they were given the green light, they've made it a pretty seamless transition," he continued. "I think overall, the response is good."
Meanwhile, John Sherer and Michelle Thompson, a couple engaged to be married later this year, have taken up residence at Clay City, where their house serves as both a home and bay station for the southern part of the county. They are working on their intermediate certification, which they should secure some time before July 1.
"They're kind of a neat story in themselves," Andrews said. "They're a husband-wife team very similar to Rick and Cathy Swearingen (former Athens employees) in Clay City. I hope they find Clay County hospitable and become life-long residents and raise their children here."