Emergency medical service response times an issue for Kiawah Town Council

Kiawah Island Town Council wants to improve emergency medical transport from the island to local hospitals. The Council will consider a consultant’s report that addresses the issue.

Kiawah Island is looking at ways to improve emergency medical services to the island including whether it could pay to have a Charleston County ambulance stationed locally.

Mayor Charles Lipuma said EMS service needs the most attention because it can take up to 45 minutes to get an ambulance.

The issue is raised in a newly released public safety study that Town Council commissioned to look at how to better meet the needs of the island whose summer population swells to 10,000 weekly visitors.

“Clearly EMS and EMS transport is the major issue,” said Town Councilman Craig Weaver.

The nearby EMS station on Betsy Kerrison Parkway is no guarantee that an ambulance will be available because the county stations EMS crews based on a computer model that shows where they are most likely to be needed, Weaver said.

“The models tend to often move units away from Kiawah,” he said.

Charleston County said it has discussed placing a Quick Response Vehicle at a fire station on the island. The vehicle is equipped and staffed like an ambulance but does not transport patients.

“We believe the QRV is a good idea. It allows the most response-capable vehicle at a lower cost than other options while improving overall response times,” the county said.

The vehicle could serve Seabrook Island, too, the county said. Patients treated by paramedics on a quick response vehicle would be transferred to an ambulance when it arrives.

The county said that its average response time to Kiawah is about 13 minutes, and the average transport time to a hospital is about 40 minutes.

Emergency responders use a “dynamic deployment system” that places available vehicles strategically to be ready for the next call taking into account ambulances already in service. It monitors the system constantly to improve response times which may vary depending on circumstances.

The St. Johns Fire District is the first responder 95 percent of the time on Kiawah but they are unable to transport patients. A county ambulance is required to take a patient to a helicopter, Weaver said.

“Transport is the big issue for Kiawah. They’re getting medical care from St. Johns,” said Colleen Walz, St. Johns Fire District chief.

St. Johns sends an EMT on every call to the island who can provide basic life support until county EMS and its paramedics arrive. The fire department has two stations on the island and it meets the national response time standard of four-to-six minutes, Walz said.

“We never leave Kiawah Island empty,” she said.

The report looks at issues such as whether Kiawah should contract for a private ambulance service or have its own medical transport system. Weaver said the council focus will be on working with the county to address island concerns about medical transport.

The study suggests that an on-duty Charleston County deputy could be stationed on the island. Currently, the island pays off-duty deputies to patrol the community.

The consultant, Public Safety Solutions,Inc. of Chester, Md., suggests that the island hire a public safety director who would report to the town administrator.

The issues will be discussed Monday at a strategic planning meeting, Lipuma said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711