Emergency medical responders will have six minutes to accept or reject a call — not nine — before Luzerne County 911 summons the second agency designated by each municipality.
The change, which takes effect at midnight Oct. 1, is part of a new countywide emergency medical services response plan released Monday.
County 911 officials stress they maintain the authority to immediately summon advanced life support crews to provide medical treatment at the scene for calls involving heart attacks, strokes, overdoses and other life-threatening issues and situations.
Several county officials have pushed to shorten the wait time for responders, with county Councilwoman Kathy Dobash saying it would prevent “long waits by suffering victims.”
Emergency volunteer organizations have opposed the change, saying it is unrealistic and could force them to lose their licenses and shut down.
A committee analyzed years of studies and feedback on the effectiveness of the county’s emergency medical response system before developing the new plan, approved by the state Department of Health, said county 911 Executive Director Fred Rosencrans.
Emergency Medical Services of Northeastern Pennsylvania, which licenses all ambulances and medic units in the region, assisted in the plan development, he said.
The new plan also formalizes reporting requirements, Rosencrans added.
Responders who can’t provide coverage must notify 911 in advance if they won’t be available, he said.
Agencies also must respond to 95 percent of calls when they are reported as available. Failures to comply will be documented and sent to Emergency Medical Services, he said.
“The bottom line is if they don’t have a crew, they have to let us know,” Rosencrans said.
First responders are not barred from heading to a scene if they do not accept a call within six minutes, but the new plan stresses the crew that arrives first must handle the transport, he said.
“I’m not looking to punish any agencies. I’m looking to make the emergency medical response system the best it can be,” Rosencrans said.
The plan also mandates 911 logging and reporting of medical responders who have resources available but fail to provide back-up coverage needed in another jurisdiction, Rosencrans said.
County and state officials will work with agencies struggling to provide coverage due to a shortage of volunteers and lack of funding for paid medical staff, but honoring the state’s requirement to provide round-the-clock coverage takes precedence, he said.
“We can’t continue to do business as we did in the ’60s and ’70s,” he said, pointing to an increase in people working and a decline in residents willing and able to volunteer. Rosencrans suggested agencies wrestling with coverage gaps consider merging with others to form a regional agency.
The new county plan does not require municipal approval to take effect, Rosencrans said. The state supports countywide plans and does not want patchworks of varying protocol within each county, he said.
The reductions in dispatch time do not apply to fire departments because they are covered by a different state law, Rosencrans said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.