Franklin County (Va.) Talks Medical Dispatchers
Franklin County (Va.) is looking into what it would cost to allow emergency dispatch operators to give medical advice to callers who are waiting for emergency services to arrive.
Dispatchers don’t give medical advice because they are not trained to do so, but long wait times for emergency responders has county officials rethinking that practice.
The Franklin County Board of Supervisors has talked about switching to having general medical 9-1-1 operators on several other occasions in the past decade, County Administrator Rick Huff said.
Former chairman David Cundiff, before his death, talked about setting up a board made up of medical and emergency professionals to oversee the emergency communications. The board would oversee county dispatchers and advise supervisors on improvements that could be made.
Having a dispatcher who can talk people through medical problems and keep them calm while they wait for help is really helpful, especially when emergency responders can take a while to arrive, Huff said.
“It’s an ability that saves when you’re 20 or 30 minutes out just because of geography,” he said.
Franklin County has 13 dispatchers, five of whom are paid for with state funds.
General medical dispatchers tend to stay on the line longer with callers because they keep talking until emergency responders arrive. That keeps an emergency dispatcher from answering as many calls, Huff said. It is not yet known how much additional training might cost the county.
Supervisor Bob Camicia said he has had citizens complain to him about wait times for emergency medical responders. In those situations, it would be comforting to have someone talk them through what’s happening, he said.
“The county is aging rapidly and along with that comes more medical dispatch,” Camicia said. “If you’ve got a heart attack or something else, or if you don’t know what you’ve got, it’s very concerning.”
Several supervisors suggested the county look into partnering with neighboring localities for emergency medical dispatch services, something that could be more likely when they partner with Roanoke and Roanoke County on a new public safety radio system.
The county struggles to find reliable 9-1-1 operators as it is, Sheriff Bill Overton said. Shifts are long, the job is stressful and pay is an issue, so it’s hard to keep good people, he said.
Overton suggested the additional training would make it harder to hire dependable dispatchers, but it was still worth implementing.
Supervisors advised staff to investigate further into how much changes would cost and to brief them at a later point.
“It would be a more arduous training aspect, but I think the benefits to having emergency medical dispatch are tremendous,” Overton said.