City miffed by county’s sudden push to add ambulance in Plover
The Stevens Point Police and Fire Commission made an official objection to some particulars of a recent action by the Portage County Board of Public Safety to add another ambulance unit to the Plover area.
The Portage County Board of Public Safety recently passed a recommendation for approval to the Board of Supervisors to add an ambulance unit to the Plover area, staffed with a minimum crew of one paramedic and one emergency medical technician (EMT).
The city of Stevens Point, which currently provides emergency management services (EMS) to the Plover area, objected to the minimum requirement of a one-paramedic, one-EMT team, citing it would be a downgrade in services to the people of Portage County from what it receives now.
Currently, the city of Stevens Point provides emergency medical services for the Plover area with ambulance crews consisting of two fully-certified paramedics and provides those services above the county’s designated acceptable response time more than 93 percent of the time.
“The gold standard for EMS in the state of Wisconsin is the paramedic system. If the county wishes to alter the delivery of emergency medical services to the county (citizens) by changing the ambulance that is positioned in Plover to one paramedic and one EMT, you are downgrading the medical emergency services provided to that portion of this county,” said Gary Wescott, Police and Fire Commission president.
“It won’t change in the city of Stevens Point, city residents will continue to have two paramedics responding to all of their ambulance calls. But let’s be very clear about this, if the county’s Board of Public Safety votes to add a third ambulance and fund it at a level which is one paramedic and one EMT, that is a downgrading of the county’s gold standard which is held in very high esteem in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest,” Wescott said.
“The state differentiates between a two-paramedic ambulance and a one-paramedic ambulance – in other words, a two-paramedic ambulance can perform more advanced (procedures) than a one-paramedic ambulance – because they recognize the importance of having two-paramedics as opposed to an EMT basic and a paramedic,” said Stevens Point Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Gemza.
“Now, you could argue that percentage-wise, it doesn’t happen very often. Not every ambulance call is life-threatening, but when that does happen you need it, and at the end of the day that’s what we want from our service,” he said.
County officials said the addition of a unit would help inundated EMS personnel with call volume and the one-paramedic, one-EMT minimum recommendation is simply a place to start.
“Here’s where we started, we were looking at our call volume. Our call volume has increased tremendously. I’m not sure the exact number, but I can say there’s a major number of calls that come out of the Plover-metropolitan area and to the west,” said Don Jankowski, District 13 supervisor and Public Safety board member.
“We have placed an ambulance in Plover on a temporary basis – it comes out of Station No. 2 in Stevens Point – and it comes down and spends approximately 40 hours in Plover,” Jankowski said. “That improved some of the response time to the village of Plover, town of Plover and Buena Vista area. So, we’re beginning to think we may need to add another unit there on a full-time basis.
“There are times we have three, four and sometimes five units coming out of the Stevens Point Fire Department at any given time, and we’re maxing out on our calls,” he said. “So, we feel it’s time we add a rig and by doing this we can hopefully lessen some of the response time to the southwestern part of the county,” Jankowski said.
Having a two-paramedic team is, of course, the ideal set up, Jankowski said. But the Public Safety Board set the one-paramedic, one-EMT model as a bare minimum.
“Currently, we have a rig in Amherst that is an advanced EMT transport (a two-EMT team) and there are no paramedics on it … so, we have one rig with no paramedics in the Amherst area and we are looking at possibly increasing that in steps and making it one paramedic, one EMT also,” Jankowski said. “We’re thinking this would be a stepping stone for Plover.
“That doesn’t mean we’ll stop at that (level), maybe it’ll be two paramedics, we just don’t know how that’s going to work out yet,” he said. “But at the very least, we’re suggesting we have (an extra) one-paramedic, one-EMT unit.”
“Nobody in this room (of commissioners) is against adding another ambulance, but not at a lower quality of service,” said Commissioner Jerry Moore.
Stevens Point Fire Chief Bob Finn said he also took some issue with the suddenness of the recommendation to County Board. His department, from which rapid response unit resources would be used to fill in the gaps of the potential one-paramedic, one-EMT crew in Plover, wasn’t consulted or included in the decision.
As far as he was aware, the county was satisfied with Stevens Point’s coverage of the Plover area, Finn said. But then the county’s movement on the issue essentially came suddenly and without discussion with the Stevens Point Fire Department.
Stevens Point Police and Fire Commissioner Robert Ostrowski, who is a liaison to the Portage County EMS Oversight Committee, said no recommendation was made by the Technical Team, a group of technical professional advisers consisting of experts in emergency medical services, physicians and other experts in providing ambulatory services that advise the county’s EMS Oversight Committee.
The enhancement of services to the county, especially in the outlying areas which have slower response times due to their distance from more densely-populated areas, is a good thing and the city fully supports those efforts, Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza said. However, doing so with a unit that offers less services is not OK.
“I would like the Commission to go on record favoring the county move forward with the third ambulance only with the provision that it’s staffed by two full-time paramedics which will continue to provide, and will actually improve, paramedic coverage to all residents of Portage County,” said Wescott, who then made a motion to that effect.
The Police and Fire Commission voted to approve Wescott’s motion unanimously.
Because the County is currently under contract with the city for its current medical response services, Jankowski said the addition of a unit – in whatever form it ends up being – wouldn’t happen until 2019.