Aiken Co. ambulance put 'out of service' after DHEC inspection

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- The results are now public, but for Dianne Parker, who says she volunteered for Aiken County EMS years ago, the findings don't mean much.

"This DHEC report is really suspicious to me," says Parker of Aiken.

Last week, News 12 aired an investigation of Aiken County EMS in which a current worker spoke out anonymously.

(To read the investigation, click here.)

"If [the Department of Health and Environmental Control] knew that every other shift we're having to get the AC's repaired on our units. We had an ambulance breakdown on scene with a patient in the back," the EMS worker admits. "You don't feel like you should have to work in that environment," the worker told us.

Two days after the story aired, the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) carried out an "unscheduled inspection" of some of the ambulances at Aiken County EMS.

"Our inspection consisted of review of the Aiken County EMS repair log and physical inspection of seven of the fleet of fifteen ambulances," writes DHEC Public Information Director Jim Beasley. "We did not observe any significant mechanical or equipment problems during our inspection."

But the documents show that some violations, albeit arguably minor, were discovered.

Certain lights on multiple units were burned out.

"Address air [conditioning] and laminate issues," reads another report.

A required hammer was missing in another truck along with "other products," one document reads. Exposed wood was found in two of the vehicles inspected. News 12 is told that blood and other bodily fluids is hard, if not impossible, to clean from wood. Thus, wood in ambulances is regulated by DHEC to prohibit infection.

At least one of the problems was repaired during the inspection with duct tape.

"I don't want to ride in an ambulance, I don't care if it is the outside, that's covered up with duct tape," says Parker.

Parker says DHEC inspections are nothing new, and she has serious questions about last week's inspection.

"When I was working there, more than one time, one of the guys would call from DHEC in Columbia and say, 'Tell so-and-so I'm coming down for lunch today.' When you would give that message to the person it belonged to an immediate red alert went out to get your stuff together, to get your place cleaned up, get your things in order, because DHEC was coming," she says.

This time around, DHEC only inspected seven EMS vehicles out of the county's fifteen vehicle fleet. Out of those seven, one ambulance was found to be 'unsatisfactory' and taken out of service. According to the DHEC document, that particular vehicle has 384,002 miles on it.

Overall, the seven vehicles inspected have an average mileage of roughly 262,000 miles.

County Administrator Clay Killian says county maintenance does a good job on that fleet. He says they squeeze the most life as possible out of the ambulances in an effort to protect taxpayers.

Killian was pleased with the DHEC inspection's findings. Killian says no major infractions were found. Killian says the ambulance taken out of service will be fixed to the point it meets DHEC code.

However, multiple EMS workers say they have had ambulances breakdown, with patients in the back sometimes. The worker who spoke out anonymously in the News 12 investigation says he doubts the thoroughness of DHEC's recent inspection. He says the vehicles must be driven to get a true sense of how they operate.

While the DHEC inspection was seemingly unscheduled, News 12 has learned from DHEC that Aiken County EMS was called by DHEC before the investigators drove from Columbia to Aiken to complete the inspection.

"They called to ensure that someone in authority would be there to assist," says spokesman Beasley.

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