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Ohio Files Complaint against Private Ambulance Company

The state has filed a complaint against a Columbus private ambulance company for slow response time on runs to state prisons, including for Ariel Castro's death.

On Sept. 3, the night the Cleveland kidnapper hanged himself in his cell, a crew from MedCare Ambulance took 35 minutes -- more than twice as long as the 15 minutes allowed under a state contract -- to arrive at the Corrections Medical Center in Orient, Ohio.

On the way to Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, the ambulance crew made a 28-minute stop somewhere along I-71 to get another crew member "to assist with life-saving measures."

Castro was declared dead at 10:52 p.m. -- 1 hour 37 minutes after he was found.

Although MedCare has had the prison contract just since July 1, there already have been several problems with slow response times, prompting the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to file a "contract complaint" with the Department of Administrative Services, the business arm of state government that awarded the contract -- which also covers any corrections officers, staff members or visitors needing an ambulance.

"We are currently reviewing the contract with DAS about vendor compliance," prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said. She could not say how many incidents were cited in the complaint.

MedCare officials did not respond to voice and email messages seeking comment.

The state contract with MedCare, which is based on unit costs for various services such as transportation to a hospital, says: "Repeated responses in excess of the fifteen minute requirement may be cause for termination of the contract."

Medics in another high-profile case, the Aug. 4 suicide of Billy Slagle on Death Row at Chillicothe Correctional Institution, encountered problems when they were unable to get a gurney up and down the tight stairwell in the old prison. They ended up carrying Slagle -- who still showed some signs of life -- down the stairs in a sheet.

In Castro's case, the slow response time probably wouldn't have mattered because he likely could not have been resuscitated, a state report said.

Scioto Township Fire Chief Porter "Chip" Welch said his Pickaway County department, which had a contract with the prison for years, would not have taken nearly as long to respond.

"Absolutely not," Welch said. He estimates he would have had a crew from his Commercial Point station at the prison in 8 to 10 minutes.

"We could have done better, and we've proved it," he said. "Regardless of the fact that it was an inmate, every person deserves good, solid, adequate medical care."

Scioto Township had the state prison contract from 1996 to 2011, but it lost it to 1st Advanced EMS of Gahanna in 2011, followed this year by MedCare, based at 3699 Paragon Dr. in Columbus.

Seeking ways to cut expenses in 2011, the state bid out prison emergency-medical contracts with public and private sources. The contracts, most of which were renewed this year, cover all emergency runs at the prisons. In most cases, private ambulance companies dramatically underbid public agencies.

Welch said his medics still make runs to the prison and, in fact, have been there six or seven times since Castro's suicide.

The loss of the $650,000 state contract was a huge blow for Scioto Township firefighters and medics because it accounted for 47 percent of the department's budget, Welch said.

"For most of 2012, we cut our staffing back to three people per day," he said. "We got a federal grant since then that has helped us maintain staffing."

In the meantime, the agency went to the ballot three times seeking voter approval of operating levies, losing each time.

MedCare also has contracts to serve the Hocking and Marion correctional institutions.

ajohnson@dispatch.com

@ohioaj



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