If two people with two medical emergencies call Pendleton County 911 at the exact same moment, only one will get an ambulance from within the county. The other will have to wait for help from the next-nearest ambulance district in Harrison County — 25 minutes away on a good traffic day.
Ali Orme, a Pendleton County resident with two young children, said Friday it’s not a chance worth taking. She’ll load her children into her own car if she needs to.
“You call 911 when you’re headed north,” she said. “You call, say, ‘I’ll meet you at the Campbell County line. I know they have a paramedic on duty.’”
As WCPO reported in June, the problem in Pendleton County isn’t a lack of ambulances: They have two capable of providing what’s known as advanced life support (ALS) care.
It’s a lack of money. A $175,000 ambulance district deficit, fueled by a stagnant tax base and an increased number of calls for service, has forced the county to take one ALS ambulance out of service for 12 hours at a time five days a week.
According to interim ambulance director Greg Pollard, the shortage has produced at least 10 recent situations in which simultaneous callers got responses from two different counties.
“It scares me,” Orme said. “It absolutely scares me that there will be a day, sooner or later, one of my children will need that. A friend of ours will need that. It’s going to happen, (and) if it’s not there, it’s scary. It’s very scary. It’s something we shouldn’t have to worry about.”
What’s the solution? Pendleton County already taxes homeowners at the maximum legal rate to fund the ambulance service, and it isn’t enough.
Orme said she would be willing to pay higher taxes on something else to ensure her family had accessible medical care.
“I need to be able to pay for a service that my family needs, that every family needs, regardless of who they are,” she said.
Leonard Whalen, who said he had lived in Pendleton County for 45 years, said he didn’t know exactly what county officials should do — but cutting back ambulance services wasn’t it.
“Personally, it’s mandatory,” he said. “We do need it. There’s no skipping around it.”