You know you're having a bad day when you need to get to a hospital fast but the ambulance's battery is dead. Then, instead of calling 911 right away, the crew decides to wait until they can arrange for another vehicle to pick you up.
That actually happened Nov. 12 to Manuel Gallardo, who headlined a martial arts event at the City Auditorium. Gallardo, wearing only his silk fighting trunks, shivered in the cold, dark Rocky Mountain Mobile Medical ambulance as medics tried to help him with two broken leg bones, according to Gallardo's wife, Lisa. He later was taken to a hospital by the county's emergency ambulance provider, American Medical Response.
The incident highlights a disconnect in ambulance monitoring. County authorities think they've licensed Rocky Mountain Mobile for only non-emergency, inter-facility transports, and its license, issued Nov. 1, 2010, states as much. But Rocky Mountain transportation director Andy Harris says the company is authorized by state and county regulations to transport with lights and siren if the situation warrants.
"If [the doctor] says, 'Get this person to the hospital,' then we get that person to the hospital," Harris says, adding the company has 10 non-medical units strictly for transfers and three "medical" ambulances "with more coming."
American Medical Response is the county's only authorized provider of 911 ambulance response under its contract with the El Paso County Emergency Services Agency. The exclusive deal is supposed to eliminate competing ambulances racing for patients.
AMR spokesman Ted Sayer says, "They [Rocky Mountain] can do standby, but if someone gets hurt, they need to call 911." (Presumably, Rocky Mountain's license allows its crews to treat minor injuries on the spot, as long as they don't transport the injured to a hospital.)
On Nov. 12, Manuel Gallardo executed a kick maneuver, broke both bones in one leg and fell to the mat in excruciating pain, according to his wife. Lisa Gallardo says the two Rocky Mountain medics were slow to start an IV requested by a doctor — whom, like Rocky Mountain, the event promoter had hired for "standby" service. Other questionable care decisions followed, she says, and then the ambulance wouldn't start.
She says after nearly an hour, she demanded 911 be called, and the crew acquiesced. AMR arrived in just over three minutes to help her husband, who is now healing and walking with a cane.
When she tried to file a complaint, Lisa says, Rocky Mountain's attorney accused her of slander.
Harris says company officials have reviewed the incident, as has its medical director — who, ironically, is Dr. Jack Sharon, a member of the county's Emergency Services Agency board — and found only vehicle issues in need of correction. Harris says he was "more than" happy with the medics' performance.
He says Rocky Mountain started 16 months ago to "bridge a gap in our local health care community," because AMR lacks enough ambulances. To which Sayer replies, "It's my opinion, we have more than sufficient resources."
Sheriff's Cmdr. Jim Reid, another member of the ESA board, says in a written statement, "According to the witness RMM did not call 911 like they're supposed to until they realized that their ambulance was inoperable. This is contrary to section V.7.(o) of the county's ambulance resolution, which provides for suspension or revocation of an ambulance license for failing to call 911 for a witnessed emergency while providing standby services."
The county's licensing authority is investigating.