EMS Task Force Discusses Behavioral Care

Legislators reviewing the status of emergency medical care in Kentucky met on Tuesday to hear testimony on emergency behavioral health issues. Lexington fire officials told the Emergency Medical Services Task Force about a successful pilot program in the city. The task force also focused on areas taking a regional approach to emergency medical care.

Kentucky Mental Health Coalition Executive Director Dr. Sheila Schuster testified that mental health patients and those seeking treatment for substance use disorders often find it difficult to get transported for voluntary care. Representative Mark Hart (R-Falmouth) noted that a lack of available ambulances might be part of the problem. “A lot of times, some of the refusals are based on the fact that they have one ambulance for one county,” he explained. “If it’s not an emergent medical need, then they’ll refuse so they can keep the ambulance in the county to provide the emergency medical care.”

Lexington Fire Chief Jason Wells reported on a pilot program underway in the city to address mental health transports. The city’s partnership with Eastern State Hospital aims to ensure people facing mental health issues receive appropriate and cost-effective care. “It reduced unnecessary hospital readmits,” he reported, “and it created an environment where all parties can utilize the system to the most efficient and best ability. I think that will ultimately improve the patient outcome.”

Lexington EMS Battalion Chief Marc Bramlage explained that law enforcement and fire crews began receiving training in March. Since then, 1,593 people called 911 for emergency behavioral health needs. The new program resulted in 62 of those patients receiving care at Eastern State Hospital.

Dr. Joe Middleton testified about the Barren-Metcalf Emergency Medical Services consortium that serves both counties and the cities of Edmonton and Glasgow. The four entities partnered in 1974 to share operating costs and responsibilities for five regional ambulances, and T.J. Samson Hospital later joined the group. Middleton told legislators that the partnership gives the service better purchasing power. Costs are divided between the different entities based on usage.

House Bill 777, a KLC initiative legislators passed in the 2022 session, established the task force to study the certificate of need (CON) process in Kentucky and other EMS concerns. The group will meet again on Oct. 18.