Mo. EMT Petitions for Increased Funding for Dispatch Center
Apr. 24—Holly Leverenz checked on her five-week old daughter in her crib in 2003, discovering a parent's worst fear—her baby had stopped breathing and her skin was "gray as cement."
As Leverenz worked feverishly to help her daughter breathe again, she called 911.
"And the phone rings and rings and rings and rings, then you hear a clicking sound and it just goes dead," she said.
She became more frantic during her second attempt to phone 911. She reached a dispatcher this time, who told her an ambulance was on the way, then hung up. When she called a third time, the dispatcher said she couldn't stay on the line—Leverenz later discovered that state law required dispatchers to receive Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) certification to assess the situation and tell the caller what to do.
First responders in Eolia arrived to her home, followed by the ambulance. Leverenz's daughter is a healthy teenager today, but that experience inspired her mother to pursue an education in emergency response and a career that included two years as a firefighter in Eolia and 11 years as an EMT with the Pike County Ambulance District. Leverenz has been on a county-wide mission with Andy Young, fellow member of Concerned Citizens for Pike County 911, to encourage citizens to vote for Prop 911 in August. If the measure passes, it would set up a county 9/16-cent sales tax, repeal the existing landline phone tax currently used to fund 911 services and set up an independent operational budget for centralized emergency response services.
Prop 911's goals include funding a centralized emergency dispatch center—two dispatchers currently work from the County Assessor's office, as staff members work together to update county maps—increase staffing for dispatchers to two personnel available 24 hours per day, provide EMD training to dispatchers, hire a dispatch manager and create a seven-member, independently-elected board to oversee the service.
Young and Leverenz attended several Pike County Commission 911 Advisory Board meetings, gathering information during each monthly meeting. Young said the current landline phone tax is not providing adequate funding for a system established in 1994. A county sales tax would provide a projected $956,250 following a full year; Pike County Sheriff's officials estimated that the necessary budget would be $894,672.
Leverenz said the Concerned Citizens for Pike County 911 filed documents with the Missouri Ethics Commission to ensure the process was transparent for everyone from the taxpayer to the person who needs care during that 911 call.
"It was important to develop the group under those guidelines so we could have help in understanding the importance of being up front and most honest with every move we were making to support this cause," she said.
Young recalled how she and Leverenz went door-to-door each day through the cold, rain, sleet and snow of March, collecting 1,513 signatures—more than double the signatures required to place Prop 911 on the August ballot in Pike County. Leverenz said the signatures are being certified in the Pike County Circuit Clerk's office, and the second phase is to spread education throughout communities with town hall meetings and post card reminders as the election draws closer.
Leverenz said she hopes Prop 911 moves forward to provide the care everyone in the county needs, stressing some of the residents in the outlying townships aren't getting emergency response quickly enough. Young agreed, saying that the "outdated, outmoded and underfunded" 911 system is simply not up to the task of providing rapid emergency response.
"As soon as they get the call, they show up," she said. "But sometimes, they're not getting the call... when they call to get backup, they're not getting through. That's not the fault of the people who are trying to man the system, it's the fault of the system itself."
Leverenz said everyone is proud of the hard work put forth by the current staff members who are doing their best "because they are just utilizing what we have in play at the moment." She said she hopes that Prop 911 will improve care for everyone throughout Pike County and hopefully avert a similar incident to what she and her daughter experienced.
"This is why I'm onboard and this is why it's so important to me," she said. "We made it, but the next person may not. Through my 11 years of experience, I know wholeheartedly that if I would have had early access, the survival rate would be increased."