City probes ambulance service complaint
By Chris Paschenko
While walking home after morning coffee at a neighbor’s house, a Decatur woman lost consciousness, but her son was there and called an ambulance.
Jean Owens, 61, who lives in the Mud Tavern community, regained consciousness and asked the ambulance crew to take her to her doctor at Lawrence Medical Center in Moulton.
“They told me my blood pressure was high and stuck my finger,” she said. “They told me they couldn’t take me to Lawrence and were kind of rude about it. The woman said, ‘We don’t go there and can’t take you there.’ ”
Bill Owens said his mother suffered a light stroke Feb. 11. He said the stroke could have resulted from the pressure applied by a cyst or tumor in her brain. He said the ambulance crew helped him put his mother into his car, and he drove her to Lawrence Medical Center.
“They treated her like she had a sprained ankle or something,” Owens said. “Her doctor in Moulton is familiar with her medical condition, and the Lawrence hospital is only a few minutes more (than Decatur hospitals).”
Susan Donahoo, a spokeswoman for Decatur Emergency Medical Services Inc., a private ambulance company, said the ambulance crew followed its policy, which requires it to take patients to the nearest medical facility.
“A transport to Lawrence County Hospital was twice the distance as the nearest hospital, Parkway Medical Center,” Donahoo said. “In order to provide the best possible service to residents of Morgan County, Decatur EMS transports emergency patients to the nearest facility, in interest of patient care.”
Once a patient is stabilized, Donahoo said, the ambulance service transfers her to the facility of her choice.
Owens called the city and The Daily to complain about the ambulance service.
Decatur Fire Marshal Darwin Clark, liaison to the city’s Emergency Medical Services Committee, said he is investigating.
“I’ve got to get with the ambulance service and talk to who was on the ambulance,” Clark said.
“The patient’s request is supposed to take priority, if the patient is stable. I don’t know the circumstances.”
Bill Owens said he received a call Friday from a woman named B.J. with TSCI in Birmingham. According to its Web site, TSCI is a consulting service with offices in Decatur and Birmingham.
Owens said the woman represented herself as working for the company that owns the Decatur ambulance service. Owens said B.J. asked him how much money he lost from his job by having to take his mother to the hospital of her choice.
“I’m a contractor and told them I lost $600 in wages that day,” Owens said. “I never asked for money, but they said their lawyer would contact me with a settlement. They offered to settle, so when the story did run in the newspaper they could say I made an agreement with them. Actually, what I think they were doing was just trying to trick me.”
Barney Lovelace, an attorney for the Decatur ambulance service, declined comment.
The Daily called TSCI after hours Friday and left a message, which wasn’t returned.
Donahoo denied Owens’ statement.
“No offer was made,” Donahoo said. “We always try to resolve the issue, but no offer was made.”
A seven-member EMS review committee — consisting of three doctors, the fire chief, the police chief (who has since retired), the assistant city attorney and the city’s chief financial officer — recommended in November that the City Council vote to switch ambulance services.
The committee interviewed representatives of six ambulance services and ranked the current service last. Care Ambulance of Alabama was the committee’s overwhelming choice.
City Council President Billy Jackson said last week the city was still working with the contract. City Attorney Herman Marks said he was unaware of any formal challenges to the contract.
Jean Owens said she moved from Michigan in December to live with her son after the death of her husband last year.
She has an appointment to see a neurologist March 5. Feeling faint at times is her only side effect.
She said she likes living in the Decatur area, but isn’t satisfied with its ambulance service.
“I could have died on the way to the hospital in my son’s car,” she said. “I’m just really lucky.”
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