I retired from a career in all aspects of public safety having worked in fire, EMS, and law enforcement for over 40 years. As you can imagine, the issue of medical transport in The Villages certainly caught my attention. I have led local, state, and national public safety organizations.
After reviewing the issues including the ten options and the presentations, it is clear to me that some options can, and should be easily ruled out. I should add that I have personally been involved in communities that have used most of the options listed. Some I worked in, and some were what was provided in the communities I have lived in.
When looking at this problem, the most obvious thing to note is that the component of the system that is working well is The Villages Public Safety Department (VPSD) and more commonly recognized by the public as The Villages Fire Department. They have been providing excellent response times and care that would be the envy of most communities in the country. In addition, VPSD provides many other programs and services that demonstrate their commitment to the health and safety of our community.
While the “nurse navigator” option may have some merits in some circumstances, emergency medical services (the 911 call) is best served by experienced EMD (emergency medical dispatchers), and responders who have “field experience”. By that I mean someone who has been “in the field” treating victims of the trauma of an assault, a fire, a gunshot wound, an overturned car, cardiac arrest, or anything you might imagine that happens outside of the hospital.
I have responded to EMS calls where hospital-based personnel were present, and they did not know what to do. No fault to them but, hospital-based care is vastly different from the “down and dirty” street medical care.
As the AED coordinator for my neighborhood, I have worked closely with VPSD on responses, training, supplies, updates, and coordination. Our combined efforts have resulted in a cardiac arrest survival rate that is better than any place I have ever heard of. If you have a cardiac arrest here in The Villages your chance of survival is 40% as opposed to the national average of 10%. I have never seen such results in all my career. And, in the past I was a first aid and CPR instructor.
In my mind, ruling out all options that do not include VPSD is an easy choice. I realize this is a Sumter County decision and that other sections of Sumter County have a much different demographic profile. However, The Villages comprises the bulk of the responses, and our age demographic is more likely to requires EMS services, and we have the highest population density. As they say, “all politics is local” and this is a local issue for us.
Perhaps another option to be considered is to make The Villages an independent fire protection district. This is done, very effectively, in many parts of the country. This model was recently suggested for consideration by Chief Edmund Cain as an alternative to the ten official options under review.
An independent fire protection district would allow for services that relate to the demographics of our community and provide for local control of resources including budgets and policies. Also, keep in mind that, in addition to emergency medical response, VPSD provides fire prevention and response to us. The VPSD has an ISO (insurance Services Office) Class 2 rating. As a former career fire chief in two communities, I can tell you this is a big deal and very few communities have a Class 2 rating. This rating has a direct effect on your homeowner’s insurance and if you are a business owner, it has an even bigger effect.
Becoming a fire protection district would obviously require a funding mechanism that would supplement or replace the current fire assessment BUT it would also result in a reduction in the county tax that currently supports the VPSD and the “for-profit ambulance company”. So, our county taxes would be lowered.
Aside from the fire protection district option, option 9 is my choice. Option 9 is Sumter County Fire and VPSD providing fire, EMS, quick response vehicle (QRV), operations, including call taking and EMD (emergency medical dispatching), and ambulances for medical transportation.
The advantages are obvious to me. It preserves and enhances what we have; it provides for local control; and it serves the inhabitants of the response area being served. It is all about customer service!
In conclusion, while I respect other’s opinions, as a VHA Vice President, a member of The Villages community since 2012, and as someone with over 40 years of experience in public safety response, I think that option 9 OR an independent fire protection district is the best choice for those of us who live in The Villages.
If other parts of Sumter are satisfied with a different level of services, that is fine, but those of us who live in The Village want and expect the level of services that are provided by VPSD, and that being the case, Option 9 or the independent fire protection district I have suggested for The Villages is the best choice for dispatching, fire protection, emergency medical service, customer service, and emergency medical transport.