Utah City Calls State’s New Ambulance Law Dangerous

AP file photo of emergency medical responders by Andres Kudacki.

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) — A Salt Lake City suburb sued the Utah Department of Health, claiming the state’s newly amended administrative rules endanger patients by allowing medically untrained dispatchers to decide what type of transport patients need.

West Valley City also sued the state’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services and Preparedness and the State Emergency Medical Committee. The complaint, filed Friday in Salt Lake County Court, was made available Monday.

West Valley, just south of Salt Lake City, is the second-largest city in Utah, with a population of just over 136,000.

Normally, interfacility transfers are requested by a patient’s doctor. But West Valley says a dispatcher now may change a service call from a 911 ambulance to nonemergency service, under new administrative rules that require dispatch centers to use “a systemized method which produces consistent results to assist a dispatcher in categorizing incoming calls so that dispatcher can notify the proper licensed provider for the level of care, whether an emergency response or an inter-facility patient transfer is needed.”

“However, under the amended rules, dispatch operators would be required to reevaluate and second-guess those treating physicians,” West Valley says in the lengthy complaint. “This could create situations where dispatch operators, without medical training and who are unable to witness the patient’s condition, would second-guess the medical professionals who determined that 911 emergency transport services were required.”

The rules also create new liabilities for emergency dispatch centers, if a dispatcher improperly categorizes an ambulance request, leading to patient injury or death.

“State defendants have employed its administrative rulemaking authority to hinder, delay, and burden West Valley’s ability to provide medical services to its residents,” the city says.

It also claims its license to provide ambulance services gives it the right and responsibility to protect the safety and well-being of its residents.

“The amended rules would also require medical dispatch operators to create and develop a new, more complex dispatch protocol, which could result in longer response times and put patients at greater risk of serious injury and death,” according to the complaint.

West Valley also says the emendations to the rules were not properly displayed to the public by the Utah State Emergency Medical Committee.

The committee posted notifications about only two of the three amendments, and enacted them without further public meetings to discuss comments from West Valley, the city says.

It says the city attorney received an email from the director of emergency medical services, “stating that the purpose of the Proposed Amendments is to ‘clarify the intent of the licensing for inter-facility providers, identify which calls fit the definition of inter-facility, and give the responsibility to the 911 medical dispatch centers to uniformly and consistently categorize each call to determine which licensed ambulance provider should be sent, thereby managing the ambulance resources in the State of Utah.’”

West Valley seeks declaratory judgment that the rules are invalid because they are not supported by substantial evidence, and they violate the city’s due process rights and the state’s open meetings law.

Lead attorneys are City Attorney J. Eric Bunderson and David Jordan with Stoel Rives.

Bunderson and the Utah Department of Health did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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