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Wis. city pays hospital system $450K to settle over $1M in EMS claims

Portage leaders had initially declined to pay Apsirus after it took over EMS

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By Nicholas Walczak

PORTAGE, Wis. — The city of Portage has agreed to pay Aspirus $450,000 to settle a dispute over the hospital’s outstanding claim for more than $1 million for EMS services from 2021-2022.

“We all came to an agreement and we are all moving past that now to try and work together,” said Mayor Mitchel Craig. “Because we obviously want quality healthcare in our community, so we need to make sure we still have a relationship with ( Aspirus ).”

The two sides met with a mediator rather than go to court, said Craig.

The Common Council approved the measure following discussion during a closed session on Feb. 22, and does not affect the city’s 2023 contract or the current year contract with Aspirus, said city administrator Michael Bablick.

The agreement will be paid in three installments of $150,000, with the first payment on June 1 . Craig said he is unsure whether the payment will come from the city’s general fund or if it will be worked into the budget another way, but the city cannot borrow money to pay for it.

Brian Kief, president of Aspirus Divine Savior Hospital & Clinics, said in a statement Aspirus “is pleased with the agreement reached regarding reimbursement for the 2021 and 2022 net losses incurred providing 911 ambulance services to Portage, Caledonia, Fort Winnebago, Lewiston, and Pacific. We appreciate the consideration of everyone involved.”

Under the city’s 1999 contract with Divine Savior Hospital, its ambulance service would submit an invoice for operating deficits, which for decades the city did not receive a bill for, officials said.

Aspirus bought the hospital in 2019 and took over the EMS contract, sending the city its first hefty bill in 2022, which Portage officials declined to pay, saying Aspirus did not meet certain notification requirements for the invoice.

As a response, a referendum allowing the Portage Fire Department to take over the city’s EMS services was put to voters on Feb. 20, with nearly 72% ballots cast in favor of the measure, which will increase the city’s tax levy in 2024 and each year going forward by about $1.5 million.

The money will fund 14 additional public safety personnel, including cross-trained firefighters, EMTs and paramedics. It also will cover the cost of education and training for those who are not already cross-trained, three new ambulances and the state-required equipment, and remodeling of the fire station to accommodate the increased staffing and new EMS capabilities.

While the increase in staffing will likely happen about November, the hiring processes could start about July or August and will include a written test, physical agility tests and interviews.

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