Aiken County implements EMS changes bringing more fully staffed ambulances

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 6:26 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Aiken County is a safer place after an I-Team investigation. We exposed ambulances down to status zero – zero available to respond to life saving calls. Hundreds of times. But county leaders say not anymore.

“I hope that this is a wake up call for Aiken and that maybe they will start improving their standard of care so the citizens of Aiken get the care that they deserve,” said County Administrator Clay Killian.

An I-Team investigation is getting results. Ambulances are on the road all across Aiken County from the city to the rural outskirts and they are fully staffed.

This is a huge victory for the 170,000 people living there. The changes come nine months after we first reported understaffed EMS crews a lack of training and a lack of ambulances were costing life saving minutes families didn’t have.

The Robert’s family says their mother paid a price she shouldn’t have. Now they hope these improvements will be enough to save your family.

“We’re still battling this. We still have a family member that basically lost her life over this,” said Brenda Roberts.

Brenda Roberts’ says she and her husband made the call to put his mother into hospice care this week. Their nightmare began two years ago when Barbara Roberts had a heart attack.

“Cardiac arrest! Cardiac arrest! We need an ambulance immediately,” said Frank.

“Sir, you don’t need to keep repeating you need an ambulance immediately,” the dispatcher said. “I need to know what is going on. I need to know.”

“Cardiac arrest,” he said.

“Cardiac arrest?” said the dispatcher.

“Cardiac arrest! Cardiac arrest! Get someone out here!” said Frank.

“Sir, why are you yelling at me,” the dispatcher said. “I am not yelling at you.”

“It takes me longer to take this call because you keep repeating yourself,” the dispatcher said.

Our I-Team found when an EMT did arrive he was improperly dispatched and not equipped to handle the call.

“She ended up with a brain injury and has been in a vegetative state for at least two years,” said Brenda Roberts, former Aiken County paramedic.

The pain is still raw for Brenda. As a former Aiken County Paramedic, she knew something went tragically wrong and called the I-Team.

‘It blows my mind that we can live in a county that is so big and has so much money and so many resources yet we have such sub-standard care in our EMS system,” she said.

County Administrator Clay Killian says in April ambulances went to status zero – zero times all month. A huge improvement over last spring when the I-Team found Aiken County in status zero 118 times in 123 days.

Killian says the biggest change was money. County council approved a pay increase for paramedics taking the starting salary from $39,000 to $54,000.

That’s helped with recruitment and retention. Of the 77 EMS jobs county-wide – only three are open. Compare that to last year when at one point 21 jobs were vacant.

The county is also working to get employees critical EMS certifications.

“We found this EMS station open across from the Bridgestone plant in Graniteville today – a station routinely closed during the status zero crisis. The county now says all rural stations are open and staffed every day...,” said Killian.

Killian says there were 10 ambulances in service today. Up from five at the height of the crisis last year. Aiken County EMS runs their own plus they’ve hired three private companies – Gold Cross, South Star, and Aiken Rescue so some days as many as 16 trucks are on the roads to respond to emergencies.

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