WSAZ Investigates | Fatal Flaw

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 9:06 PM EDT
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MAGOFFIN COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) - When you call 911, you expect an ambulance to arrive in minutes.

In part of our region, people who need medical attention have to wait much longer for help to arrive.

Jim Dockery was a mechanic, a father, and a “Poppy.” His daughter-in-law, Amber Koch, describes him as “one of a kind.”

“An unselfish individual who puts the care of others in front of their own, and if I couldn’t explain anybody else, that would have been Jim,” Koch said.

On the night of Monday, Aug. 23, Dockery’s daughter-in-law says he complained of chest pains and shortness of breath to his wife. His family called Magoffin County 911.

The family says Magoffin County dispatchers told them an ambulance was on the way. Dockery went unconscious. His son said he performed CPR for 23 minutes.

An ambulance arrived 27 minutes after the call was made to 911, but it was too late.

“I have young kids from 10 to 3 that now without a grandpap or a pappy. That’s hard. Especially when your three-year-old is asking where’s Poppy,” Koch said.

Magoffin County Judge-Executive Matthew Wireman said the county had zero available ambulance crews within the county during Dockery’s emergency.

WSAZ reached out to Lifeguard, the ambulance service, for more information regarding the crew’s location during the emergency.

Lifeguard said in a statement, “The crew responded from our Magoffin County Station. This data has been verified internally via our CAD mapping system. "

Our crew mapped and timed out the distance from the ambulance bay to the family’s home. It took WSAZ 15 minutes to get from there to the family’s home. The 911 logs and Lifeguard’s statement show it took 27 minutes to respond to this 911 call.

The state law requires an ambulance provider to apply for a license to operate, formerly known as a Certificate of Need.

Lifeguard is the only carrier license to serve Magoffin and four other surrounding counties. Lifeguard’s EMS license enables the company’s ambulances to move between Pike and Magoffin counties while maintaining compliance with the state EMS regulatory requirements.

Magoffin County officials recognized the need for additional EMS crews and applied for a Certificate of Need license to start its service in January 2020. A hearing approval was set for June 2020 at the state Capitol but was never held due to the pandemic.

Wireman said they’ve repeatedly reached out and only have been told: “It’s been delayed.”

WSAZ followed up on the county’s behalf.

A spokesperson for the state said in a statement, “The Office of the Inspector General has received this administrative hearing request, and a hearing officer has been assigned. It should be scheduled in the near future. The backlog for Certificate of Need hearings is being worked through.”

From July 1 through August 2021, an ambulance wasn’t available within the county 13 times, according to Wireman and the 911 logs, meaning anyone in Magoffin County needing help had to wait for an ambulance to come from a neighboring county.

“There is a reasonable expectation in America that if you need an ambulance one will be on the way, except in Magoffin County. That is unacceptable,” Wireman said.

Excessive response times are not an issue known to Magoffin County but all of Eastern Kentucky. First responders in Prestonsburg see similar issues.

“You never know when you’re going to get an ambulance. It could be coming from Pikeville or somewhere,” Clarence Davis said.

Kentucky is one of four states that requires ambulance providers to get a special license to operate. As for Koch, she’s begging for change -- because lives depend on it.

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