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Ambulances lose 40% of their staff

60-mile policy to remain for now

Staff writer

The county’s ambulance service is down to nine employees after upheaval caused by criticism, resignations, a termination, and new hires.

Ordinarily, the department has a roster of 15. The shortage of employees is creating difficulty in the service meeting its mission.

Interim director Chuck Kenney told commissioners only one paramedic was on duty in Hillsboro and two advanced EMTs on duty Monday at Marion.

A single attendant cannot legally transport patients in an ambulance, so Hillsboro ambulance essentially was out of service except as a first response vehicle.

“At 5 o’clock tonight, there will be no paramedic on duty,” Kenney said. “I shouldn’t say that because I’ll probably stay there.”

Kenny has hired one EMT who will begin work soon. He has leads on some paramedics.

He and commissioners discussed ways for the department to move forward after the resignation three weeks ago of director Travis Parmley.

Kenney said none of the six employees who resigned gave specific reasons for their resignations, Kenney said.

Commissioners voted to raise starting wages and increase benefits for new ambulance employees.

New emergency medical technicians will be paid $15.26 an hour, advanced EMTs will be paid $16.81 an hour, and paramedics will be paid $19.48 an hour.

Any employee making less than the starting wage and benefits will be raised to the same rates.

Additionally, benefits immediately available to new employees were increased to six days’ sick leave and six days’ vacation available in their first year of service.

“This is kind of industry standard,” commissioner Kent Becker said. “We’ve got to get up to industry standard if we want to have a service.”

Commissioners also voted that EMTs who want to upgrade their licenses to paramedics will be reimbursed the full cost of classes.

Kenney told commissioners his long-range goal was to staff an ambulance at Peabody at all times. With three full-time trucks, one could be used for transfers, he said. He recommended paying bonuses to employees who make transfers.

“As much as I’d like to hope, I don’t see us getting that Peabody truck fully staffed for some time,” Kenney said.

The ambulance is staffed by part-timers on call, when they are available.

Becker asked whether the county had a mutual aid agreement with Harvey County for times when Marion County was too shorthanded to handle calls.

Kenney said it didn’t and conversations would need to be held.

A department policy that has been the source of much recent criticism — that the county won’t transfer patients further than 60 miles from its boundaries — also was discussed. No changes will be made at this time.

“We’re in a dire situation,” Kenney said. “To get rid of that 60-mile policy, I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Becker said he wants to reserve the option to transfer further when the service is fully staffed.

How transfers are charged was another thing commissioners changed during Monday’s meeting.

Hospitals that request transfers will be charged instead of the patient.

A $2,000 transfer fee will be billed directly to any hospital sending a patient elsewhere for a higher level of care.

Additionally, medical facilities that summon EMS to assist them with procedures will be charged a flat fee of $700.

“I just think it’s fair if someone said, ‘Hey, come help us,’” Kenney said.

Outcry over ambulance policies has gone on since June, when county lake resident Pam Maag complained to commissioners that her husband, Roger, had to wait for a transfer to Newton Medical Center.

A week later, St. Luke chief executive Jeremy Ensey also spoke to commissioners.

A committee of two medical providers, two commissioners, Ensey, Hillsboro Community Hospital chief executive Mark Rooker, and Parmley discussed the transfer policy, but no resolutions were found.

Contention over the policy grew sharper after Hillsboro resident Dwight Schmidt, who died soon after he arrived at a Topeka hospital. The county would not transfer Schmidt, and he had waited 17 hours for an air ambulance to transfer him.

Two weeks ago, another Hillsboro resident, Stephanie Ervin, died at HCH after EMS declined to transfer her to a Topeka hospital.

“I want them to change the policy,” her sister Angela Osburn said Monday.

Last modified Aug. 10, 2022

 

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