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Sluggish Emergency Rescue System

Posted August. 22, 2004 22:14,   


The Victims Could Have Almost Died-

In the early morning of August 19, a case occurred where a stranger stabbed two women walking 800 meters apart in Mia-dong. Local residents found the two stabbed women, the latter ten minutes later, and called the police. Amazingly, the second victim who was found ten minutes later arrived at the hospital 40 minutes later than the first victim did. In case of the fist victim, Ms. Che, 20, the ambulance arrived just four minutes after receiving the call and arrived at the nearby Korea University Anam Hospital 20 minutes after the call and was able to receive emergency treatment.

On the other hand, in the case of the second victim, Ms. Won, 18, an ambulance did not show up even 14 minutes after the first call--over 10 requests for an ambulance were registered at the Seoul Emergency Operation Center (SEOC), which manages 119 calls and is under the supervision of the National Emergency Management Agency--frustrating the police and local residents.

Since the 119 ambulance did not arrive, the desperate police called an ambulance from a nearby hospital and transported the victim to a small hospital in the vicinity. The hospital, however, was small and it did not have all the equipment needed for emergency surgery. Hence, Ms. Won was transferred to the Korea University Anam Hospital by the 119 ambulance that came late. In all, she arrived at the emergency room 50 minutes after she was reported as being stabbed to the police.

Due to the delay in receiving emergency treatment, Ms. Won was unconscious for over a day and finally awoke on the afternoon of August 20. Her doctor at Korea University Anam Hospital said, “The patient’s bleeding was so severe that we could have had a very serious situation.” The local residents who found her at the scene of the crime said, “We did not know what to do, so we covered her with a blanket and tied a towel around her wounded arm.”

It Can Happen at Any Time—

Police and 119 emergency workers said that the ambulance was delayed because there is only one 119 ambulance exclusively responsible for the whole area from Mia 1-dong to Mia 9-dong. A worker at the SEOC explained, “The only ambulance had left to pick up the first victim.”

The head of the National Medical Center’s National Emergency Medical Center, Sohn Sook-ja, pointed out, “We cannot just infinitely increase the number of 119 ambulances, but rather, if we create a systematic emergency rescue system that connects administrative institutions to local hospitals, we can cope with such simultaneous incidents.”

In particular, through this case, it has been proven that the “Movement Monitoring System”--a system introduced in 1996 that indicates the closest fire station to the location where a request for 119 assistance was made--and the “Emergency Medical Guidance Service,” which has been in practice since 2000, are ineffective.

In case of the Movement Monitoring System, there is no device inside 119 ambulances that shows the location of the person requesting the ambulance, so often the ambulance goes astray and loses time.

Furthermore, the Emergency Medical Guidance Service, where a certified doctor gives emergency treatment instructions over the phone before the ambulance arrives at the scene, is virtually useless because of a lack of personnel. In any case, no local residents at the scene of the crime knew of the existence of such service, and even the police was not aware of its existence.

A worker at the SEOC admitted, “It has been four years since the Emergency Medical Guidance Service has been around, but the budget has been so tight that in some years, we did not even have any doctors at all. This year we have two doctors available, but we need more to actually make this service effective.”

The average number of emergency patients in Seoul during August is 393, and in only 20 cases did people receive Emergency Medical Guidance Service.

Jae-Young Kim jaykim@donga.com