The Department of Human Resources has transferred to the D.C. Fire Department two emergency vehicles especially equipped to transport maternity and newborn patients. The vehicles were found to be under-used and remained parked at D.C. General Hospital more often than they were in service, according to DHR officials. The two DHR vehicles are currently the only city-owned ambulances fitted with special equipment for maternity and newborn emergencies.
For the past two years they have been operated by DHR under contract with a Virginia ambulance firm. But the mobile team has assisted fewer than 1,000 people, said Dr. Ozella Webb, chief of the DHR maternal and child health unit. The team receives only about 30 emergency calls a month while operating costs for the service come to $85,000 a year, Webb said.
Despite the poor use of the vehicles, recent fire department statistics indicate that numerous maternity-related emergenices occur in the city each year. Between Oct. 1, 1977, and Sept. 30, 1978, the fire department answered nearly 70,000 emergency calls, including 1,769 maternity-related emergencies, or an average of 150 such emergencies a month, said Ramon Granados, a Fire Department battalion chief.
Granados said the fire department will maintain and operate the ambulances as relief vehicles for their 12-ambulance fleet. However, incubators and other special life saving equipment used to help newborns in distress will be removed because the department does not have the proper staffing or training to use them, said Granados. Throughout the year, the fire department will furnish DHR with their emergency run records providing information on maternity-related emergency calls. Webb said the figures will be used to help them in their battle to reduce the city's high infant mortality rate.
Webb said DHR gave up the vehicles following criticism of their use by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The vehicles were purchased in 1975, under a $37,000 grant from HEW, in response to claims by DHR officials that the ambulances were needed to transport impoverished maternity patients and newborns who lacked emergency transportation to the hospital.
The contract with the Virginia firm to operate the vehicles was negotiated after a General Accounting Office study found that the ambulances remained parked at D.C. General Hospital 17 months after they were purchased because DHR did not have staff to operate them.
The transfer of the vehicles was revealed at the DHR weekly press conference, which also included announcements about the mentally and physically disabled, the food stamp program and the Bureau of Preventive Services:
Twenty-four elementary and junior high school students with learning difficulties stemming from emotional problems are receiving counseling, along with their families, through a pilot mental health project established last September. Counseling is provided by four full-time mental health professionals working in Region I of the D.C. public school system. If the project is successful, similar mental health teams will be established throughout the entire D.C. school system.
The Region III Office of Rehabilitation for HEW has commended DHR for finding jobs for 679 severely disabled persons, or 41 percent of the severly handicapped persons aided by DHR Bureau of Rehabilitation Service programs last year.
On Jan. 12, the city welfare department mailed out food stamp cards that would restore lost benefits to 302 people who were unable to use all or part of food stamp cards received last November. A computer error resulted in 845 cards being mailed out late last year. DHR officials said 302 people were unable to acquire all or part of their November food stamps because of the mistake.
The Bureau of Preventive Services announced that DHR clinics will increase the use of oral drugs as an alternative to injections as a method of treating uncomplicated gonorrhea. Last year 16,000 cases of the disease was reported in the District.