Iowa county, EMS company finalize consolidation agreement
MEDIC EMS becomes part of Scott County as consolidation process continues
By Sarah Watson
Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus
SCOTT COUNTY, Ill. — Scott County is unlikely to consolidate two emergency dispatch centers for now as it works to absorb administration of ambulance services in the county.
The recommendation came from a working group made up of staff from Scott Emergency Communications Center and MED-COM, the two agencies which would have been consolidated. The group which found the consolidation would add “additional unnecessary complexity” in the transition.
The recommendation is another step in the work to bring the nonprofit MEDIC, its staff, ambulances, and responsibilities under the county’s umbrella.
“The complexity of onboarding MEDIC into Scott County is complicated enough,” Dave Donovan, director of the Scott Emergency Communications Center, told the Scott County Supervisors on Tuesday. “We believe that you’re better served at this juncture to bring MED-COM with — bringing it in as part of that new county department.”
The first official day of the new department, to be called MEDIC EMS of Scott County, is slated to be Jan. 1, 2024. The Scott County Supervisors will vote on what county staff called a “key milestone” of the MEDIC transition on Thursday — a memorandum of understanding which outlines that Scott County intends to assume assets and operations of MEDIC beginning the first of the year.
As the county on-boards EMS services and employees, a question previously unresolved was whether to consolidate dispatch operations onto one system.
MED-COM and SECC dispatchers already work elbow-to-elbow in the same room, but the computer systems they use support different functions of each agency.
Currently, SECC dispatchers answer all 911 calls in Scott County. And after quickly gathering initial information, such as the phone number, location and reason for the call, the dispatcher classifies the call as police, fire or EMS.
EMS calls are then transferred to MED-COM dispatchers, who ask medical protocol questions of the caller to determine whether to send fire and/or ambulance, and if if the response needs to be “hot,” traveling with sirens, or “cold,” without sirens and following typical traffic patterns.
MED-COM provides all EMS ambulance dispatch functions for all of Scott County, according to the workgroup’s report.
Through its systems, MED-COM also provides record keeping and pre-billing work for MEDIC and Genesis Ambulance, dispatches for Genesis Ambulance in Rock Island, Henry and Mercer Counties, as well as in DeWitt, and dispatches ambulances for transferring patients between facilities.
SECC came online in 2011, the result of a years-long effort to consolidate emergency dispatch operations in Davenport, Bettendorf and Scott County. At the time, there were discussions to merge SECC and MED-COM operations, but leaders decided against it.
The dispatch agencies use different computer-aided dispatch systems which are tailored to their agency and require specific training to use.
“The issue of CAD (computer-aided dispatch) integration or using a common CAD system for both agencies is very complex and requires additional study,” the report stated. “Changing CAD systems is difficult, costly and time consuming.”
MED-COM’s system supports the tracking and dispatching of ambulances as well as patient records and billing. It also extends to out-of-Scott-County operations, which the report said the new county department intends to maintain for the foreseeable future.
“If we simply reach in and snatch MED-COM out of that, we’re going to create some large gaps in their processes,” Donovan said.
From comments at listening sessions, the working group determined employees of both agencies largely were not in favor of consolidation.
“There is a high degree of apprehension over the prospect of such a move,” the report stated. “There would likely be staff that would strongly consider separating employment, depending on the specific expectations of a consolidation.”
The report did leave the door open for the future possibility of a merger. It recommended the workgroup continue meeting and analyze ways to make information sharing between the two systems more efficient and investigate in the next two years whether merging the agencies would improve efficiency or cause more problems.
One potential advantage to consolidation would be to have employees cross-trained between dispatching police and fire as well as EMS calls, but Donovan said SECC faces staffing shortages that would make cross-training difficult.
The report recommended the SECC to make a “concerted effort to move closer to ‘full staffing,’” which the report called “imperative and a prerequisite for most consolidation strategies.”