Overwhelmed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and understaffed, Coffee County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) has not transported patients outside of the county.

The Ambulance Authority approved a policy in March to only transport patients within Coffee County. Completing transports outside of the county leaves the county short-staffed.

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Commissioner Dwight Miller said during the Jan. 12 Coffee County Commission’s meeting that he had to wait more than eight hours for an ambulance in November.  

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“When I was in the Emergency Room, they transferred me to Nashville in the last part of November," Miller said. "I was told that Coffee County Ambulance would not transport outside of the county. Is that right?” 

Miller had to wait eight and a half hours to get another ambulance to transport him, and he didn’t even have COVID, he added.

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Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell confirmed that EMS hasn’t transported patients outside of the county.

Tim Stubblefield, who serves on the Coffee County Ambulance Authority, said the board made the decision in March. The reason then was to keep EMS employees protected.  

“At that time, we tried to keep our people from contracting the virus,” Stubblefield said. “At our last meeting, we rescinded this policy because there is no reason for this policy now.” 

He added that the priority of EMS has been taking care of Coffee County residents.

EMS is still short-staffed and still doesn’t transport patients out of Coffee County for non-emergencies, according to Stubblefield.  

“We have to take care of county citizens first,” Stubblefield said, adding the pandemic has intensified the staffing issue EMS had already battled.  

“We don’t have enough people staffed to transport anybody out of the county (non-emergency),” Stubblefield said.

“If we transport someone outside of the county, that leaves us short-staffed here.”

EMS Director Michael Bonner said the Ambulance Authority’s policy has always been to transport out of the county for emergencies only.

“In March, the ambulance authority decided not to transport for emergencies and non-emergencies outside of the county," Bonner said.

“At the December meeting, we went back to the original policy, and now we only transport emergencies out of the county.”

EMS has fought the staffing problem for a long time because the county does not offer competitive pay. Paramedics can work in surrounding counties and Nashville area for much higher paychecks. 

Ideally, EMS would have five ambulances staffed each day, but that has been challenging, and between staffing shortages and sickness, most of the time there have been four ambulances, according to Bonner.

Job applications are available on the county’s website, or contact Coffee County HR or EMS.