People with Minor Injuries and Easy Access to Other Transportation Might be Turned Away

OKLAHOMA CITY — No shirt, no shoes, no service. Management reserves right to refuse service.

Those signs are commonplace in businesses, but you won’t see them in Emergency Medical Services Authority ambulances at least not yet.

According to its rules, the ambulance service that serves the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas cannot turn down a patient who wants or needs a ride to the hospital. But Dr. John Sacra, the medical director for EMSA and other first-response medical organizations in the area, said the day may soon come when the ambulance service turns away people with minor injuries and easy access to other transportation.

That practice isn’t new in some cities but would be a change from how EMSA has operated during its 30 years, Sacra said. He said the change would not affect many people because most people who don’t need ambulance service don’t want it.

“About 15 percent of the time when we respond to the call, the patient doesn’t want to be transported,” Sacra said. “And after an evaluation, if we determine that it’s safe for the patient, even if we don’t transport them, we’ll honor that request.”

Sometimes emergency medical technicians determine transportation is necessary even if a patient doesn’t want it, Sacra said. That won’t change.

“The biggest problems we have are from patients who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs,” he said.

“So if we feel that it would be detrimental to the patient to not be transported, we involve police to come and assist and file an emergency protective order.”

In most cases, EMSA allows a family member to ride in the ambulance to the hospital and requires an adult to ride in the ambulance if the patient is a child, Sacra said.

When a patient is taken by helicopter, family members usually are not allowed onboard because of space constraints and safety concerns.

Sacra said new rules to allow paramedics to refuse transportation in some cases are under consideration for implementation in 2009 or 2010.

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