Posted: Aug 23, 2012 9:25 PM
Updated: Aug 24, 2012 8:49 AM
WESLACO - Confusion on the part of emergency medical service workers may have put a man's life at risk.
John Pemelton's wife called 911 on July 8 after she found him unconscious.
"I've got migraines. I've got diabetes," John Pemelton said. He also is battling cancer.
"My wife found me. I was out of it. Like I was knocked out," he said. "I had a sugar low and was unconscious."
His wife knew he needed help fast. She called 911 and that's when the problems started.
Pemelton's wife told the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office 911 dispatcher her husband needed an ambulance. She told the dispatcher they were in Mercedes.
The dispatcher knew Mrs. Pemelton's exact location because she was on a mobile phone. Within seconds, he transferred her call to Promedic EMS.
A man named Frank answered the call at Promedic. He asked her for the address of the emergency.
The county's emergency phone system recorded the call up to that point. Mrs. Pemelton remembers the rest.
"Well, at first they said, what's your location? I said, 'I'm at 2 ¼ West and 8 North," she said.
The place is just west of Mercedes and east of Weslaco. But the Promedic dispatcher decided the Pemelton's house wasn't in their response area.
Three minutes later, he transferred the call to Star EMS.
Sara answered Frank's call.
"I have a call in your area," he said.
"Give me a second ... go ahead," Sara said.
"It's going to be 4445 Mile 8 North Mercedes. ... You have an unresponsive male ... diabetic problems," Frank said.
"I'll go ahead and send a unit. Thank you," Sara said and hung up.
Richard Torres, Star EMS director, said they got the call at 7:08 a.m.
"The way we looked at it, the map, we were like, ‘It's a simple call,'" he said.
"Our system ... we run out of Google maps, so we type in an address to that call. It specifically takes us to east Mercedes," Torres said.
The ambulance was sent to a place between FM 491 and Mile 1/2 East.
"Well, they went out there, they determined the (numbers) didn't match up," Torres said.
Paramedics ended up in the middle of a field, miles away from Pemelton's home.
The dispatcher called Mrs. Pemelton back.
"Is he conscious and breathing at this time," the dispatcher asked.
"Yeah, he's breathing ... but I can't wake him up," Mrs. Pemelton replied.
"How long is it going to take," Mrs. Pemelton asked the dispatcher.
"Not long. I already sent them," the dispatcher said.
Mrs. Pemelton asked the dispatcher if the ambulance crew had their address. The dispatcher repeated the address back to her. She told the dispatcher they were behind a Dollar General store.
"We were like, ‘Wait a minute. There's no Dollar General in that area," Torres said.
The confused dispatcher had to call back to verify the address.
"You said those directions were Mile 8 North and ...?" the dispatcher asked.
"Mile 2 ¼ West and 8 North, where you see all the trees," she said.
"Hold on, give me a second, ma'am," the dispatcher said.
"People are so ridiculous. They don't know the address," Mrs. Pemelton said.
Torres doesn't blame his dispatcher or his paramedics for the confusion.
"That was Promedic's area, and we still decided to proceed to that call," Torres said.
It took a third call from Star EMS to the Pemeltons' house before help arrived.
The dispatcher called Mrs. Pemelton and she told her she could hear the sirens. Twenty minutes lapsed between the time the initial call was placed and the time help arrived.
"When we got there, they were very upset," Torres said.
Paramedics gave Pemelton some sugar to stabilize him and took him to the hospital.
He now wants some answers.
Pemelton said they've lived in their home for 35 years. He doesn't mind giving out his physical address - 4445 E. Mile 8 North Weslaco.
His 911 address, or physical address, is in Weslaco. But the U.S. Post Office lumps him with Mercedes.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS interviewed Pemelton more than 3 years ago for a different story about the address confusion.
Pemelton said in 2009 that he was worried the address confusions could delay emergency services' response times.
"I've seen real bad wrecks out here," he said. "This guy flipped his (car) three times and landed in the ditch upside down."
Now he is worried about what will happen if he needs an ambulance again.
"Can't depend on calling 911 ... too confusing for them. Hell, even the Hidalgo County elections commission can't find me," he said.
Sergio Castro helps run Hidalgo County's 911 system. The system is based out of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council in Weslaco.
"Everything in that yellow area, it's Promedic's jurisdiction," Castro said. "From our side, there's really not much else that could have been done."
Castro said the system itself worked.
"Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office identifies that Promedic is responsible EMS for that region and transfers the call over to Promedic," he said.
He said Promedic should never have transferred the call.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS visited Promedic to get answers, but no managers were available to speak about the case. A worker said a manager eventually would be available to speak about the incident.
A CHANNEL 5 NEWS crew returned a week later to Promedic, hoping to speak with management. A person said the manager would not talk and slammed the door. Minutes later, police showed up.
"We got a call that you guys aren't wanted here," an officer told the news crew.
A CHANNEL 5 NEWS reporter told the officer he was never asked to leave. Still, he escorted the news crew out of the building.
Castro, the regional 911 director, did meet with Promedic management. They told him their dispatcher was using an outdated map with blurred boundary lines.
"You see everything else that's not in this area, that's not yellow ... it's county area," Castro said.
Castro said state law keeps EMS companies from having access to the same equipment as government emergency dispatchers.
"They are private companies ... we are not allowed to provide them 911 equipment," he said.
That may complicate an already confusing situation. Nine EMS providers answer 911 calls in Hidalgo County. All are under contract.
"The patients are the ones who suffer ... because there's a great delay in response determining who is who, boundary and boundary, and who is gonna take the call," Torres said.
"Over 100 calls have come out of Promedic diverting calls to us to respond in that area in the last eight months," Torres said.
"Maybe they don't have an ambulance in that area, I don't know," he said.
"Our biggest concern is that Promedic is being paid by the county to serve that area, and we're the ones responding," Torres said.
Torres said their job would be easier if they were allowed full 911 access - the same access the state prohibits.
"Our best advice is to make sure that they understand what their physical address is and utilize it every time they call 911," Castro said.
Pemelton said he isn't giving up.
"There are thousands and thousands north of here," he said. "They have a Mercedes postal address and a Weslaco 911 address."
He said 911 dispatchers should at least give EMS companies GPS coordinates for the calls.
"It's time somebody took charge in the county," he said.
Hidalgo County 911 administrators said they can't keep ambulance companies from passing calls to other providers.