The Wrong Solution

A number of recent cases have emphasized a problem at the heart of local emergency-response efforts. There was a delay of several minutes in dispatching an ambulance to the residence of Wyeth Chandler when the former Memphis mayor was felled by what turned out to be a fatal heart attack while cutting his grass early last month. Some weeks earlier, there was a delay in responding to 911 calls from the home of Shelby County commissioner Joyce Avery's daughter, who subsequently died. Commissioner Avery has since said she does not believe the delay in itself cost the life of her daughter, who succumbed to a chronic, long-term illness. Opinion is divided as to whether Chandler, a county resident, might have been resuscitated if he had been served by an ambulance from nearby Bartlett rather than one dispatched from Arlington, further away in both time and distance.

But there's another issue besides that obvious one. In an emotional appeal to her fellow commissioners in a session devoted to a review of 911 procedures, Avery talked about the unnecessary stress undergone by citizens who are forced to endure long waits, as her daughter's immediate family did, when attempting to summon emergency-response units.

As a short-term solution, the Wharton administration and the county commission have concurred on efforts to improve communications between Shelby County's separate governmental jurisdictions, as well as adding a few ambulances to the county's inventory. But as Avery told the press after the commission's meeting on the subject, "Adding ambulances is not the answer. We've got to fix 911. It's broken!"

The most obvious solution to the disjointed emergency-response efforts of Shelby County's several governmental units is some sort of consolidation; if not full governmental consolidation, then some functional ad hoc version of it, at least for emergency-response purposes. Politics should not be allowed to come before matters of life and death.


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