By Connie Leinbach
Ocracoke Island is a resort community and needs good EMT service.
That was the message at the Hyde County Board of Commissioners Monday night by islanders Scott Bradley and Ronny Vann O’Neal, the latter of whom related a concerning situation that happened over the weekend.
O’Neal explained that an island woman was in pain and needed ambulance service Friday night, but when the two EMTs showed up at her door, they said there was no working ambulance available.
“I said, ‘What are we going to do?’”
O’Neal said one of them said he would have to drive the woman himself. “I’m 80 and I don’t see too good in the dark. I kind of flipped my lid and called 911 again but no one would talk to me.”
So, O’Neal drove the woman in pain to the north end ferry. When he arrived on Hatteras, he called a friend, who sent an ambulance for O’Neal’s charge. If he would have waited for a working ambulance, O’Neal said, it would have been the next day.
“It’s gonna be too late if somebody dies,” O’Neal said. “These young people in construction work, if they fall off a house, what are they gonna do? Everybody just can’t take off and carry somebody (to the hospital.)”
The importance of health care and emergency services on Ocracoke is crucial, said islander Scott Bradley, who related a story about a visiting couple last summer in their 70s, the husband of whom needed emergency care.
He said the EMTs did not follow up with the wife after evacuating the husband, so Bradley and Kelley Shinn ended up helping the woman.
“We got her on the ferry, got her some food, tried to help her the best we could,” Bradley said, noting that she eventually reached the hospital in Greenville and, fortunately, her husband was back on the island two days later.
“I only share this because after hearing the story of Mr. O’Neal it just makes me wonder what’s going on,” he said. “This is a resort community, and it needs top notch EMT service.”
Hyde County Manager Kris Noble said in an interview Tuesday morning that the faulty ambulance had been fully charged after about 45 minutes of the Friday night call from O’Neal, who, with his party, had already headed to the hospital.
“So if we had had another call that evening that would have been okay,” she said. Ocracoke was covered.
She said the two EMTS who responded Friday night arrived in a pickup truck the EMS also has on the island.
By Saturday evening, and after several conversations with the EMS and county managers, the best ambulance Hyde County has was on the island, County Commissioner Randal Mathews had said in an earlier interview on Monday. Hyde County only has four ambulances.
Mathews explained that these ambulances have two batteries, and the vehicles must stay charged while parked. In the prior ambulance, a master switch had not been thrown because an EMS employee from the mainland unfamiliar with the Ocracoke ambulance had missed the switch. So the truck wouldn’t start for O’Neal’s situation.
Mathews said this ambulance had been serviced before this latest event for “several thousand dollars.”
Noble said she will ask the county commissioners, probably at the March meeting, for approval to divert some money from the $1.1 million the N.C. Legislature appropriated to build a $2.2 million EMS building on Ocracoke, toward the purchase of another ambulance.
Noble, at Monday night’s meeting, apologized saying the situation has been addressed.
“You all have full emergency transport capability and will continue to have it,” she said. “This was an isolated incident.”
Noting that she, too, has loved ones on the island, she said she will work toward the purchase of a new ambulance.
“We’re dedicated and will put every measure in place to make sure this never happens again,” she said.