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The Port Arthur City Council meets Monday morning with tough questions for the ambulance company that’s had the lock on 911 service in Texas’s Golden Triangle for more than a decade. The scrutiny comes as Dolcefino Consulting learns a Port Arthur grandmother died after she had to wait 35 minutes for help.
Born in the Louisiana bayou, you now see Acadian ambulances rolling to calls for help in 33 Texas counties.
In an ad, Acadian employees say, “I care. I’m here to be the best part of someone’s tough day. What difference will you make today?”
Tell that to the family of 68-year-old Francisca Dublon. On September 1st last year, her call for help came from this house on Green Avenue.
She was a grandmother in cardiac arrest.
It took the Acadian ambulance a shocking 35 minutes to arrive.
Dublon would die that night in the hospital. Did that ambulance screw up hasten her death? Her daughter says yes.
“I don’t want this to happen to another family because it is urgent when someone calls. It means they should get there right away,” said Fatima Dublon.
What happened on Green Avenue isn’t supposed to happen.
Under Port Arthur’s ordinance 90% of the time the ambulances that go to emergency calls have to get there in 8 minutes. It’s a matter of life and death.
Seconds count. Francisca’s daughter knows why.
“If they get there late, well, they won’t be helpful anymore,” continued Fatima.
We learned of Francisca’s death as we continued our investigation into Texas ambulance companies. Our investigation of financial mismanagement at Cypress Creek EMS led to its downfall last year.
And now, we turn our attention to the Golden Triangle.
For more than a decade, 13 years in fact, Acadian has had a lock on virtually all the government contracts out there.
“I have to wonder if they didn’t get a little bit comfortable. If nobody’s asking about your performance level, you have to worry about it,” said Chief Greg Benson.
Until Greg Benson became fire chief, no one in Port Arthur city government was even asking for proof Acadian was answering calls on time.
And the chief worries that may have been intentional, personal relationships clouding the need for proof of the public safety being delivered.
“Numerous members of this department have said that for years there’s been a buddy system at work here,” said Benson.
Does that explain why four long months after Dublon’s death, the city of Port Arthur is not investigating why the ambulance was so late? They should be.
“They’re playing with people’s lives right now and that’s just not fair,” said Kaylee Whisneant.
This was an emotional Kaylee Whisneant just a few months earlier in Vidor. She says the Acadian ambulance took half an hour when she called for emergency help for her five-year-old little girl.
“She was gasping for air. Turning purple,” recalled Whisneant.
In Port Arthur, the chief was already curious about response times. Acadian after all, had gotten into trouble for response time violations in other places.
Look at this headline from Bastrop County two years earlier.
And it’s not just a response time question, according to the Office of Inspector General last year, Acadian agreed to pay $373,000 in fines for double billing on Medicare for ambulance transports from nursing homes.
“It would appear as though a monopoly is in place with this regard,” expressed Cordelia Cole.
Last July, the scrutiny of Acadian in Port Arthur escalated after Cordelia Mollyn Cole detailed how paramedics dropped her father allegedly from the gurney onto the ground.
“It caused irreparable damage that remained him for the duration of his life,” added Cole.
“So, I started asking them about their performance level and they’re going, oh Benson’s asking about this stuff now,” said Benson.
Acadian had been providing monthly reports on response time to Port Arthur, but the company had created them. Claiming they met the city’s eight-minute response time rules virtually all the time.
“Our compliance record for the last 12 months has been about 93% complaint,” claims Jason Mercer.
In May, the chief found discrepancies. Dispatch data revealed Acadian may have failed to include more than 100 incidents in their report.
The specter of that response time was being manipulated. We don’t know if the disastrous response time to Francesca was ever provided to the city.
But what happened to her and to Kaylee in Vidor, may be the same problem.
In Port Arthur, the city has not required Acadian to dedicate ambulances to the city fulltime. The company uses the same ambulances to cover a lot of the Golden Triangle.
“We’ve had some that have responded from Vidor. We’ve had some that have responded from orange,” said Benson.
We’ve been watching too, and this discovery may be more frightening. Acadian routinely cannot send help if a resident of Port Arthur calls 911.
Dolcefino asked, “Does it happen a lot?”
Chief Benson replied, “It does happen quite bit.”
Late last year the Port Arthur City Council added a second ambulance company, City Ambulance Service. And now the city is effectively cut in half, with Acadian handling calls on the south side all the way to the San Luis pass.
But the days of zero ambulances keep happening.
Folks in Port Arthur probably didn’t know that on Christmas, there were no Acadian ambulances available for nearly seven hours.
It’s one of the reasons Chief Benson has been asking both companies to provide GPS data, which discloses the locations of their ambulances when a call for help comes in.
“So, when that call comes in the system says hey ambulance x is closest,” said Benson.
City ambulance said OK, it agreed to provide dedicated ambulances to Port Arthur’s northside.
Last November Acadian was asked the same question.
Councilman Kinlaw asked, “Are you also going to provide GPS data on your buses?”
Jason Mercer replied, “I would have to defer to some members of the operation team about the technology required.”
That was two months ago. Still no GPS. It could better track response time and it would likely expose how often Acadian ambulances are out of place to respond to help.
Acadian claims it has 35 ambulances in the region. Maybe they do, but that’s why the GPS is important.
Ambulance companies don’t make their big bucks on 911 calls. It’s the private transfers often from nursing homes, that’s where the money is.
It’s a prize that comes along with the life and death trust that’s given to a private ambulance company to handle 911 calls.
And that means policing that 8-minute response time.
“Let’s make sure that’s being met,” said Benson.
“Because you were suspect it wasn’t,” asked Dolcefino.
“Well, yeah just curious,” said Benson.
“More than curious. You thought it wasn’t being met,” said Dolcefino.
“Yeah. Right,” responded Benson.
Let me get this straight. If we think Acadian is cheating and the chief is suspects they are, and they’re hiding records, why do they have the contract at all?
“We need now start emphasizing on the citizens of Port Arthur making sure they are taken care of,” said Councilman Kinlaw.
Without showing us the records, Acadian claims their average response time in September to Port Arthur was under six minutes. So, how do we explain it took an Acadian ambulance thirty five minutes to reach Francisca.
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