Survey says: Current EMS works
Most municipalities prefer existing system, but cooperation needed
By Gene Kemmeter
More than half of all municipalities in Portage County are “very satisfied” with the county’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and more than two-thirds are somewhat satisfied, based on a survey compiled by Portage County Executive Patty Dreier.
Dreier released the results of the survey Monday, March 26, at a meeting of the Portage County Towns Association at the Stockton Town Hall. The meeting was her last at the association, as she is stepping down as executive after the April 3 election.
After several months of discord surrounding the county’s EMS system and the Emergency Management department, Dreier pulled together and conducted the survey to provide feedback about the EMS from officials in the 27 county municipalities with the hopes of gaining insight into which – if any – direction the countywide system should follow, including disbanding.
She said 24 of the 27 municipalities completed all or part of the survey, with no surveys completed for the town of Buena Vista or the villages of Nelsonville and Whiting.
She also said partial completion or skipped questions is the reason why responses don’t always add up to 24 municipalities.
She said she wasn’t surprised by any part of the survey, “but it was the kind of community I would want to live in. We are lucky to be here, and we want others to be that way.”
The respondents paid attention to the things that matter, she said. “The survey gives us a great launch point for solutions and for buy-in across the whole county.
“The articulation of voices in the survey was very good. I was impressed by the clarity. It would have been great to do this years ago, but that option wasn’t available,” Dreier said.
What will happen to the findings from the survey is uncertain. Dreier isn’t seeking re-election to the county executive position she has held since 2010, but she said she felt the survey couldn’t be undertaken prior to this year because of many previous circumstances.
“My hope is the leadership of Portage County following the election will take the data to improve the system and save lives where we are deficient in response times,” she said. “The survey is about methods in figuring out where the system can grow and what data to use to expand the system.”
The most important elements/aspects of countywide system, municipalities said, are the response time of ambulance and first responders; cost equity; dispatch communications; whole system; great coverage; saving lives; patient-centered response; advanced life support paramedic response; consistent training; good equipment; cooperation among responders.
Barriers that exist to receiving EMS service in municipalities included not having two paramedics on every call; language; railroad obstructions; physical distances/geography; poor response so citizens compensate by having others transport them; politics; inclement weather; lack of first responders in some areas; and strict adherence to protocols of Portage County.
While most of the municipalities were satisfied with the service, two municipalities said they were dissatisfied while three were very dissatisfied, with comments reflecting the dissatisfaction of communities farther from the ambulance centers in Stevens Point and Amherst, distances that lengthened response times. The countywide EMS goal is a response time of 15 minutes or less.
The county’s ambulance service covers the county, but comments said more county-to-county cooperation was needed, some responses times have exceeded 30 minutes, time-study methods don’t account for railroad interruptions or weather, and improvements can be made for towns that are a greater distance away from the metro area.
Other comments praised the service, saying the ambulance sometimes arrives before first responders, the program designed in rural areas to have neighbors trained in medical responses at the scene of an emergency quickly.
More than a dozen municipalities replied yes to the question about a reasonable expectation to have an ambulance response time within 15 minutes from the time of a call 90 percent of the time. Another seven responded “no,” and one was “not sure.” Comments called the time an arbitrary benchmark/standard; asked what is too long; and called for looking at partnerships and multiple factors that are unique to certain locations.
Ten municipalities said they were very satisfied their municipality was getting its money’s worth for the countywide EMS, four were somewhat satisfied, three neutral, three somewhat dissatisfied and three very dissatisfied.
The comments included worth-apportioned dollars; justified; quality; good value; paying for service not used; paying more for less; merely needing to help those greater distance away.
More than half the municipalities said they support integration of private providers into the countywide EMS where they can help improve response time, while three said “no” and two said they weren’t sure.
The comments included if they can reduce response time, why wouldn’t we; reduces demand on other ambulances; little cost for big impact; flexibility and collaboration needed; private providers may/may not provide same standard of care; and response time vital.
In comments in support of integrating private providers, municipalities cited state law and licensing requirements; up-to-date medical protocols; real-time communications; not practical to expect outside county providers to shift to our protocols; better response time than available now; and reports on all calls/services required in timely manner to verify.
If the county no longer provided the EMS service, municipalities said they would reach out to the Stevens Point Fire Department, Amherst Fire District, Wisconsin Rapids, Waushara County, United Ambulance, Iola, Wood County, Gold Cross, Wild Rose EMS, a Joint Fire District or Waupaca County.
Some municipalities said they were uncertain; not interested because they want the countywide to continue; would operate their own system or bid out to any private service willing to come to the town.
To transition from a countywide EMS, municipalities said they want/need cost/assign levy; help with request for proposals/contracts including standards/quality factors; reasonable timeline; equipment; don’t want/would be huge loss.
Nearly two-thirds were satisfied with the county’s first responder system, with 14 very satisfied and five somewhat satisfied. Two were neutrals, and there were no responses of dissatisfaction.
The comments included exceptional service; good response time (some areas); dedicated; grateful; apprehensive about future with trends/declining numbers; first responders work out of area during the day; knowledgeable; functions admirably; county could do more to assist with recruitment/retention; city doesn’t get any of $85,000 first responder grants.
One question asked the municipality’s interest in maintaining the countywide first responder network outside the levy cap even if the countywide ambulance service stopped. Two-thirds (18) said “yes,” two said “no” and three said they were “unsure.”
The comments included every minute critical/they show up first; valuable and viable; critical component to stabilize patient; deserves to be continued; don’t receive funding but we still contribute through taxes; with poor response times – priceless; would certainly need them; don’t believe complete reorganization is needed – just tweaks to improve for long-distance towns.
As far as suggestions to recruit/retain EMS responders in a municipality, the comments included awards; recognition; competitive pay with neighboring counties/units; tax credits/breaks for them; advertise/market the value; training; collaborate with/incentivize employers and allow them to leave work; sponsor involvement; partner with municipality; consider what millennials need/want; and removed boundaries of EMS groups.
The municipalities also responded to questions on what issues they feel they have been heard on; what issues they feel they haven’t been heard on; municipality’s vision on future of EMS in Portage County; suggestions on improving a municipality’s representation related to countywide EMS; suggestions to improve oversight of countywide EMS; does a municipality favor the general concept of retaining the countywide EMS; the municipality’s vision of the future of EMS in Portage County; and any other comments.
Comments on those issues were similar to those expressed previously.
To view the full results, visit the county website, or www.co.portage.wi.us/department/sheriff-s-office/emergency-medical-services-division/portage-county-ems-survey