Morgan County Citizen: From Tragedy to Advocacy

Tragedy to advocacy

By Tia Lynn Ivey

Morgan County Citizen

Morgan County’s very own Ellen Sims has become the face of a new campaign to reform Georgia’s emergency medical response system after tragically losing her mother, Donna Martin, who died of cardiac arrest triggered by a wasp sting after waiting for nearly a half hour before an out-of-county ambulance arrived in 2018.

The Georgia Ambulance Transparency Project (GATP) is telling Sims’ tragic story through a new commercial to push state lawmakers to improve regulations on ambulance service in Georgia.

“Martin’s case painfully demonstrates the absolute imperative that the Georgia General Assembly reform our state’s corrupted and dysfunctional emergency medical services,” said a press release from the GATP.

Sims does not mince words, accusing local and state ambulance companies of profit-driven corruption, crony capitalism, and operating without sufficient oversight.

“In Georgia, emergency medical service is a complicated snake pit of back room dealers who leverage relationships, money and power at the expense of patients and families like mine,” said Sims.  “By law, the state is divvied up into 10 districts whose ambulance service is self-determined by local panels. While the structure was conceived in good faith to allow for maximum local control, it also allows ambulance company executives to serve on those panels—and sometimes even to direct tax dollars to their own wallets.”

While Sims has advocated for adding another ambulance in Morgan County, she is hoping to make a difference, not only locally, but on a statewide level.  Sims, and her family, wants action from lawmakers to ensure other families do not suffer the same fate as Donna Martin. Sims appears in a new GATP commercial asking Georgia voters to support Georgia House Bill 264, which would bar private ambulance operators from serving on boards that select which ambulance companies will serve local health districts. The bill also aims to set a 2-year term limit for all members; require vendors to register with the state ethics commission to help root out pay-to-play, require mandatory service provider reviews to ensure safety, and to require that all ambulance providers meet national safety standards.

“Those reforms might have saved my mother’s life, because my mother didn’t die from a simple wasp sting, or even the cardiac arrest it triggered. Donna Martin died because of a corrupt system,” said Sims.

The bill was introduced by State Rep. Bill Werkheiser, R-Glennville, with an impressive amount of co-sponsors, including Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, chair of the House GOP caucus; Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, chair of the House Ethics Committee; and Terry England, R-Auburn, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

“We don’t need conflicts of interest and the potential for corruption to be allowed in one of Georgia’s most critical public safety systems,” said Werkheiser. “Even the hint of impropriety should be eliminated if we want to be good stewards of taxpayer resources, and this bill would do just that by ending statutory loopholes that have been abused for too long.”

For Sims, House Bill 264’s ban on private ambulance company officials holding seats on health district board is imperative.

“In fact, it was one of those four crony capitalist panels that determined which company provided ambulance services in Morgan County, where my mother was stung by a wasp last year. Within minutes, she had suffered a severe reaction, but National EMS, which has a pair of seats on the council, never came,” said Sims. “Thirty minutes later an ambulance from a neighboring county arrived, but by then it was too late. She was later pronounced dead at the hospital.”

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