Saturday, August 8, 2009

Poor Emergency Services in Ilwaco, WA

On the night of November 30th—December 1st, 2006 the fire station in Ilwaco, Washington, a small fishing village at the mouth of the Columbia River, burned to the ground. Although there was a certain irony and hilarity attached to that event—it made the evening news in Seattle and Portland—it was tragic for the community. It took over two years for a new beautiful station to be built in the place of the old one. During that time the City of Ilwaco contracted with the private ambulance service Medix based in Warrenton, Oregon, some 25 miles away, to answer medical emergency calls. Borrowed and donated fire equipment sat behind the city hall, but no EMT truck.

For the most part Medix was quick to respond to calls, but their personnel weren’t Ilwaco people. They seemed a little bored and disinterested as well as confused as to even what the zip code in Ilwaco was. This was the price we were paying for having the fire station burn down we told ourselves. Then in October of 2008 my mother activated her system because she’d fallen trying to get out of her recliner to go to the bathroom. The Medix people arrived at her apartment and got her back into her chair. They asked her if she wanted to go across the street to the hospital and get checked out and she said, no. They did no further investigation as to why she’d fallen and left. Soon the process was repeated. A neighbor of my mother, a retired nurse, came across the hall and was there when Medix did not take any vitals on my mother or attempt to get her to go to the hospital.

In the meantime the “Get Help Now” people called me and told me what was happening and included an admonition that if she fell again that day and refused to go to the hospital they would stop accepting her calls because they couldn’t keep calling 911. Why they couldn’t I don’t know, but my cousin called to say that she’d spoken to my mother and thought she’d had a stroke. I ended up calling my mother’s neighbor who made sure I got to talk to my mother who indeed sounded odd. I convinced her to summon help one more time and go to the hospital and get checked out.

As it turned out my mother had a raging infection that required a week long hospital stay and a month in Manor Care of Gig Harbor. She was running a temperature of 104 and was dehydrated as well as disoriented. Her slurred speech was due to the fact she’d not had anything to drink all day. Had the ambulance attendants investigated why this old lady kept falling they would have realized that it was more than a problem of simple balance or strength. They also would have discovered that she was in no mental state to make the decision not to go to the hospital. If they’d been members of Ilwaco’s fire department they doubtless would have persuaded her to go on the first call.

Later the doctor told us that another half an hour could have cost my mother her life for infection that was treated with antibiotics which brings me to a more recent incident. My nearly 87 year old mother and her slightly younger sister appear to be in a falling contest. If it is not one of them it is the other falling. I realize that this is not funny, but if my cousin and I do not find something to laugh about with the old girls we’d be in a constant state of woe.

At 2 AM this morning I was awakened by our house phone in Gig Harbor. It was my cousin calling to say that “Get Help Now,” the medical alert company that I pay so my mother can summon help when she falls had called her. I hadn’t heard my cell phone, the number the company has, ring because I’d left it charging in another room. I’d spoken to her at 7 PM on Friday and since she’d fallen about two weeks ago I thought surely I’d be safe for a night. Wrong.

My son had heard my cell phone and spoken to the “Get Help Now” people including a call back number. They’d told him that my mother had pressed the button a second time because no help had come. I tried calling my mother’s apartment, thinking that by now the Medix people would be there, but no one answered. I called the company who told me that they’d called twice for the Medix people and while we were speaking my mother pushed her button again. Just then they arrived. Thirty minutes from the time she’d first tried to summon help had elapsed. That amount of time was not lost on me.

In a few minutes I was able to call my mother’s apartment and speak with her. She was fine she told me. She’d fallen trying to get back into bed from a trip to the bathroom. The Medix people had had to come from Astoria they’d told her because there was no one in Ilwaco to answer the call. Now the fire station is only two blocks from my mother’s apartment and the hospital is across the street. Had my mother had a critical illness or injury the thirty minutes she had to wait might have cost her us her life.

Back in October I had contacted the Medix Company to complain about how my mother’s calls had been handled when she was sick. I received no apology or even empathy. I realize now that my anger was misdirected. Now that there is a fire station in Ilwaco again there is no reason for the City of Ilwaco to continue to contract with a disinterested company in another state. The focus of my anger is now a city that I love, but we cannot be the only family that feels that our property taxes (for we own a house there) are not serving us well. This is the community to which my husband and I hope to retire?
I pay for a medical alert service so give my mother and me peace of mind. We have little.


Grandma L said...

The whole world is going to pot in a hand basket, but that is so outrageous to have service like that. And if somebody dies because of it, nobody will be held liable.

Lorraine Hart said...

Sheesh...what a situation!!

Do you get any answers from the City Council or anything like that? Seems to me it would make more sense for a nurse to walk across the street and assess at this point!

Are there any volunteers? Us grannies in the groove gotta start holding protest rallies!! Here we are, trying to look out for three generations...four, if we try to take care of ourselves.

It's time to rethink a lot of entire systems...good projects for scholars, methinks.

Stephanie Frieze said...

I will be contacting the City of Ilwaco on Monday morning to see if they cannot return to having the volunteer EMTs come. As it turns out she was fine, but it could have been much worse.

Kim Thompson said...

Stephanie, this is very scary. The irony that makes me shudder is having the hospital and fire station so darn close by!

Please keep us updated on your progress with the city--we care too!

Stephanie Frieze said...

After being lectured by the head of the Ilwaco Fire Department I am here to set the record straight. The property taxes my husband and I pay for our house in Ilwaco do not pay for the Medix calls. I was told that the reason that my mother lay on the floor for half an hour was that the ambulance was on another call and so they had to send one from Warrenton.

Apparently Medix is here to stay because "Otherwise you would be paying $1.50 per thousand dollars for EMT services. Medix only gets paid if they take you to the hospital." To that I responded that I would rather pay taxes for good service than on an as needed basis. I am one of the rare birds who views taxes the dues for living in a civilized society and would welcome a fire levy, but we will just have to put our hope in Medix.

Jo said...

What are the City Fathers & Mothers thinking? They had better take care of the oldies now...they'll be in the same boat soon enough. You'd think the hospital would jump on setting up a "help" program similar to the one you have for your Mom. I agree with you on paying taxes for good services. I hope someone comes up with a better solution. You know Jon and I are planning on retiring there, too.