Legal dispute underlies ambulance issue in Clinton death | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Legal dispute underlies ambulance issue in Clinton death

Posted By on Tue, May 8, 2012 at 9:30 AM

I noted here over the weekend the death of a Clinton lawyer, Brett Blakney, four hours after he struck his head in a scuffle with a man he was trying to bar from his restaurant. He'd been talking with law officers and others before his condition worsened.

Original reporting noted the inability to transfer him from the Van Buren County Hospital to more advanced treatment in Little Rock. Weather conditions made helicopter ambulance use impossible and news reports at the time said a local ambulance service, Southern Paramedics, had only one ambulance on call and it was restricted from leaving Van Buren County.

Much reporting is necessary — ranging from what the hospital says about the patient's condition to the ambulance service's terms of operation and, how, if at all, the statewide trauma system responds in cases such as this.

But there's also pertinent legal background to this case. In brief: a private ambulance service, Vitalinks, had an exclusive city franchise to provide ambulance service in Clinton. Despite that franchise, the county hospital, which sits in the city, allowed Southern Paramedics to provide ambulance service. Vitalinks protested. Legal action ensued, first a criminal action against Southern Paramedics for violation of the franchise ordinance. This turned into a civil suit. A circuit judge ultimately allowed Southern Paramedics to continue to operate, but, by then, Vitalinks had already pulled out. It said it could not operate economically without the exclusive franchise. The case went to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Because Vitalinks was gone, the Supreme Court wouldn't issue an advisory opinion on whether Southern Paramedics qualified for an exemption to operate under the municipal ambulance franchise law. The Arkansas Ambulance Association predicted during the legal action that the lack of an exclusive franchise would be harmful to the "health, welfare and safety of the state."

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