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Clarksville leaders looking at new EMS service to improve care, response times

The exterior of Clarksville Town Hall
Aprile Rickert
Clarksville's Municipal Government Center

Clarksville officials are considering bringing EMS services in-house, in hopes of improving response times and levels of care.

Town officials say there have been long-standing issues with EMS response times and levels of care available — including with the current provider New Chapel EMS, which took over coverage several years ago.

There have been talks about starting a municipal service in the past. But Clarksville Fire Chief Brandon Skaggs said the issue gained more attention following the death of Town Council candidate David “Red” Worrall, who collapsed at a polling site on Election Day and died soon after.

Skaggs said the fire department was on the scene within just over four minutes of the 911 call. A paramedic with New Chapel was there in just under 10 minutes, and the ambulance arrived in about 15 minutes. In total, Skaggs said it took around 25 minutes from the time of the call until Worrall arrived at Norton Clark Hospital around two miles away.

“[That] just kind of opened people’s eyes,” he said. “Because there was a lot of people at the polls that day, a lot of bystanders, they really were like, ‘Where’s the ambulance at?’”

Skaggs said he doesn’t know if Worrall would have survived if he’d arrived at the hospital more quickly.

“I would have liked to have seen what the outcome would have been if [Worrall] could have got there sooner, could have got advanced level care sooner,” he said. “But we hope that the next person that is in the same type of position, that we don't have to have the ‘what ifs’ about that person.”

Skaggs said there were roughly 380 EMS calls in Clarksville in October, with an average response time of 10 minutes and 55 seconds.

“That's quite a long time for a patient or a family to wait for an ambulance to get there,” he said.

But he’s hoping having a town-operated EMS service could improve that and the level of care, and recently reignited the discussion with the Clarksville Town Council during a work session.

Skaggs proposed a new EMS division, which would operate under the fire service. It could include three 24-hour ambulances, each staffed with paramedics trained in advanced life support. He estimates startup costs for the ambulances and 20-22 personnel to be around $3 million.

New Chapel has been under the direction of former Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel, who was arrested earlier this month and charged with 15 felonies including fraud and ghost employment.

Skaggs said his views on starting a town-operated service have nothing to do with the case against Noel.

Skaggs said if they move forward it will take some time to get off the ground — including going through the licensing requirements, securing equipment and hiring staff.

He said the recent discussion was really “scratching the surface, just to see if the council is interested.”

Town Council Member Karen Henderson said officials discussed in-house EMS services several years ago, but it didn’t come to fruition.

“We all want this to definitely be a priority on our list for all of our Clarksville residents,” she said. “I'd like to keep it up for discussion at every one of our meetings until we get something accomplished.”

Town Council Member Mike Mustain, whose term ends in December, said in a statement to LPM News that he’d like to see an ambulance service dedicated to the needs of Clarksville.

“Response times and efficiency should be a paramount concern for any municipality,” he said. “Unfortunately, many times it seems we settle for good until we are hit in the face with the problem of good.

“Good isn’t good enough, we must do better, whenever and however possible.”

New Chapel has provided service to parts of Clark County for more than two decades. It took over full coverage of the county in 2020, after filling in gaps from the county’s previous provider. The county initially paid New Chapel a rate of $700,000 annually. This year, they entered a contract for $1.05 million per year for the next three years.

Clarksville is responsible for $273,441 annually as of this year.

Clark County officials recently told LPM they don’t intend to seek other EMS options in light of the charges against Noel.

New Chapel also serves parts of Floyd County.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.