Lawmaker: Aiken Co. facing major ambulance shortage

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, July 10, 2013

COUCHTON, S.C. (WRDW) -- Polo is known as the “Sport of Kings” to many.

"Polo is the second most dangerous sport, second to only Formula One race car driving,” said Barb Uskup, a well-known Aiken polo player of Meadow Hill-Barrington Polo.

It’s a sport not for the faint of heart. Players like Uskup have been injured, sometimes severely, multiple times.

"I was playing in a game, traveling down the field at roughly 35 miles per hour hitting the ball, and due to an unintentional foul by another player, I went down and ended up with a skull fracture and two brain bleeds,” Uskup said.

But another polo-related injury is causing controversy in Aiken County. On June 4, Uskup says a player on her field in Couchton fell and separated his shoulder.

"What had happened is we had called for an Aiken County EMS for transport, and the ambulance was on its way and Harvey Jay, who is our EMS coordinator, denied that ambulance,” Uskup said.

Uskup says they instead had to use a private ambulance they contracted to get the player to the hospital. She says ambulances are required at all tournaments, so when that ambulance left for an injury that wasn’t extremely severe, everyone else, both players and spectators, were left in danger.

Polo player and State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, was playing too that day. He fears a wider impact that could affect the multi-million dollar horse industry in Aiken County.

"We don't want the word to get out that we are behind the times and that we're in the Stone Ages with our first responders and with our ambulances and our helicopters,” said Rep. Limehouse, who adds that he doesn’t want outsiders to see Aiken County as a banana republic.

His colleague, Rep. Bill Taylor, whose district covers most rural parts in Aiken County, joined Limehouse from the sidelines of the polo field on Wednesday. Taylor fears an even greater impact due to what he calls a shortage of ambulances.

"The indication I've gotten from county government officials is that we don't have sufficient coverage. We need 16 EMS units to meet national standards. We have 10 and that just simply means that the response time is way too long to help people in critical need,” Taylor said. "I'm not faulting the specific EMS folks. I'm saying we don't have enough units in the field to cover 160,000 people in this county."

Limehouse adds that he hopes a sit-down meeting between fire chiefs, county leaders and EMS leaders will occur to iron out the problems.

Meanwhile, Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian says there's no written national standard for ambulances, but generally, Killian says counties and municipalities should have one ambulance for every 10,000 residents. As Rep. Taylor referenced, by that math, Aiken County is six ambulances short.

Killian says there’s no plan for a meeting as of yet. He says there are also no proposed policy changes at this time either. However, Killian says he’s diligently preparing a report to council in reference to the incident in Wagener last Thursday in which a toddler lost his life. Certain firefighters and other leaders said the EMS response in that incident wasn’t accurate.

As for the polo club, there are talks that multiple lawsuits could soon be filed against the county.

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