Kan. county hires EMS director 11 months after controversial ex-director's resignation

Under Dr. John Gallagher, 92 employees left the roughly 200-person Sedgwick County EMS, causing ambulance shutdowns and reduced response times

Chance Swaim
The Wichita Eagle

SEDGWICK COUNTY, Kan. — Sedgwick County named Kevin Lanterman director of emergency medical services on Thursday, 11 months after the department's controversial ex-director resigned.

Lanterman, 54, said he's "very grateful and humbled" to lead the organization where he has spent his 30-year career, rising from a reserve to the top official in the department.

Kevin Lanterman was named director of emergency medical services on Thursday. He's
Kevin Lanterman was named director of emergency medical services on Thursday. He's "very grateful and humbled" to lead the organization where he has spent his 30-year career. (Photo/Sedgwick County Government)

"But this isn't about me," Lanterman said. "This is about the hardworking men and women that are out there working in very difficult environments on a daily basis that deliver the best clinical care, and they do it with a lot of compassion and empathy. And that's what this is, and that's what this job is about."

Lanterman has been serving as interim EMS director since August.

He is the second interim chosen this month to fill a Sedgwick County EMS leadership position. Last week, Dr. Kevin Brinker was named medical director.

Both men replace Dr. John Gallagher, who had been given control of both EMS operations and the medical director's office in 2019. County Manager Tom Stolz split up the departments after Gallagher resigned.

Gallagher resigned after being removed from his post. That followed an Eagle investigation into his handling of staff turnover, response times and a patient's death.

Under Gallagher, 92 employees left the roughly 200-person EMS department, causing ambulance shutdowns and dangerously slow response times. EMS reached fewer than one in three patients within 9 minutes, a national standard for EMS response.

Street-level EMS staff had asked county leadership not to hire Gallagher in 2019 but were largely ignored. After an Eagle report last March detailed his handling of a patient's death in 2019, paramedics and EMTs called for his resignation at two town hall meetings organized by Commissioner Jim Howell and attended by assistant county manager Rusty Leeds and county manager Tom Stolz.

The town halls prompted a county-ordered investigation into the troubled department by an outside law firm. The county has refused to release the findings of the investigation, saying it's exempt from disclosure. The Eagle is suing the county for release of the report under the Kansas Open Records Act.

Lanterman, a paramedic with 30 years of experience at Sedgwick County EMS, joined his colleagues in calling for the removal of Gallagher and his deputy medical director Dr. Carolina Pereira, who had butted heads with several employees in her short tenure as Gallagher's top medical advisor.

Pereira resigned two days before The Eagle published its months-long investigation, citing a work environment where EMS employees were "allowed to have secret meetings with commissioner(s) and are able to send things to the media or place on social media with no discussion, communication, or ramification."

Lanterman, during his speech at the town hall meeting, apologized to EMS employees for taking so long to speak out. As a shift commander, Lanterman was in a position to interact with both street-level paramedics and EMTs working in ambulances and with Gallagher and his executive staff.

"Unfortunately, I failed in that. I should have openly voiced my concerns about Dr. Gallagher and his leadership a long time ago," he said. "I should have screamed from the top of the mountain, regardless of any fear of retribution or retaliation."

EMS colleagues celebrated Lanterman's appointment as interim director, with some making social media posts that it was "the best news of the year."

Lanterman is a highly decorated paramedic who had been a shift commander for 16 years.

In 2017, Sedgwick County named him a member of the "Paramedic Team of the Year" for his role in the response and care of Wichita Police Officer Brian Arterburn, who sustained serious brain injuries when he was run over by a fleeing suspect in an SUV.

Arterburn's mother, Mary Arterburn, joined the chorus of voices calling for Gallagher's resignation at a county commission meeting just before commissioners went into a closed-door executive session where they worked out the terms of his departure, agreeing to pay him more than $85,000, or about four-and-a-half months of his salary.

Last year, Wesley Healthcare awarded Lanterman and several of his colleagues "EMS Crew of the Year" for their response to an emergency after Lanterman found a patient in distress while off duty.

In his 11 months as interim director, Lanterman has overseen small and incremental improvements to response times and staffing. But the department's budget also took a hit when its largest customer, Wesley Healthcare, hired a private ambulance company for patient transfers between Wesley-owned medical facilities. Last year, Wesley paid Sedgwick County more than $1.4 million for the service.

Lanterman said staffing remains the biggest challenge for the department, which has 14 open full-time paramedic positions.

"My feeling is if the providers out there are well taken care of, then they will provide the best care to those individuals who need it at the time they call for EMS," Lanterman said. "There will be opportunities and challenges ahead, but we will conquer all of those together."

Sedgwick County opened the search for a permanent director twice, after failing to hire either of two finalists — Dave Johnston, EMS chief in neighboring Reno County, and Dudley Wait, EMS director for the city of Schertz, Texas — at the end of 2021.

In a December interview with The Eagle, Lanterman said he was not in the running for the job.

"I chose at the time not to apply," he said. "I just at the time didn't feel like I wanted to apply."

At a Thursday afternoon news conference, Lanterman said he changed his mind after discussions with his family.

"I had time to think about where I wanted to be and where I wanted to go," Lanterman said.

Leeds, assistant county manager for public safety, said choosing Lanterman for the position "was an easy decision at the end of the day," given his experience and knowledge of Sedgwick County EMS.

"We believe that Kevin is the guy who can step in, he can maintain continuity within this organization," Leeds said. "He's the guy for today, and he's also the guy for the future that can help us move forward."


(c)2022 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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