Wis. county EMS forum addresses recruitment, funding woes
The forum sought to gather input from officials and providers as a study is underway to assess the county's EMS challenges
JUNEAU, Wis. – Dan Williams is a long-time paramedic, former chief of EMS for the state of Wisconsin, former chair of the Wisconsin EMS Advisory Board, director for the UW Med-Flight program and now president of Strategic Management Consulting.
He made it clear from the start that the purpose of Wednesday’s Emergency Management Service Forum was to gather input — not to provide the results of a study yet in progress.
“This is an opportunity for you as a community to tell me the things you would like to see or what’s important to you,” he said. “We’d like to get your input. This is your opportunity to do that, because after this we’ll be getting into the writing stage of the report.”
In presenting the background to the current challenges of operating and maintaining a cost effective EMS, Williams revealed that what was eventually called EMS was put in place in Dodge County in the 1970s. Prior to that no such service existed, or was not labelled as such.
At the start it was easy to get personnel, either paid or volunteer. In fact, there was usually a reserve of talent waiting to be called into service. Now it is hard to get anyone to apply — even harder to find someone who is qualified.
“The ranks are thinning, not just because of an aging EMS and an aging population,” said Williams. “There are just too many things happening these days. There was a time that when you advertised for a full-time position you had 200 applicants. Those days are long gone. That’s on the professional level. In the volunteer world it’s getting much more difficult because there isn’t much incentive at all.”
Even pension or signing bonuses have little appeal.
Requirements for the service, training and equipment are established at the state level and are supervised by a federal agency. In Wisconsin, as in 38 other states, EMS is not considered an essential service, and is thus not funded by the state.
According to a video report shared by Williams, 60 percent of the costs of the service are raised through community fundraising — such as fish fries and brat fries.
“The state has always been willing to fix or try to fix the things that don’t cost any money,” Williams said. “Anything that costs any money never really gets done.”
Funding for all agencies, according to state statute, is provided by townships. Municipalities, counties and/or the state are not mentioned.
Strategic Management Consulting has compiled information about all of the emergency response services in Dodge County. The $21,500 cost of the study is being covered by a grant of $5,000 and agency contributions of $4,500. The balance is being covered by county government.
“We asked for a fairly significant amount of documentation,” said Williams. “This was for us to understand how each individual service is operating. We asked for financial information, call volume, department policies and procedures – a lot of things that help us determine what the potential issues are. There were a few people that were shocked by what we asked for, but it does help to put the puzzle together.”
His firm is currently sifting through that information, and has clarified some of that information through follow-up.
The report will be presented to the Dodge County Office of Emergency Management in January and will be presented to the county board Jan. 21.
“What we want to avoid is having a service put a blue tarp over their ambulance and go out of service,” said Williams. “What I can tell you is that there are a number of services around the state that are doing that as we speak. There are services in this county that are very, very close. They’re certainly getting out the tarp and unfolding it.”
He said the study is the first step in ensuring a continuity of service in the county.
“The whole idea of taking a look at this as a county is to make sure that at the end of the day we are able to provide sustainable coverage throughout the entire county, no matter what corner you’re in.”
A total of about 50 members of area EMS groups, city officials and concerned citizens stayed on to discuss particular concerns, and to share their views on the topic and how it might be managed. The meeting, scheduled for three hours, concluded in an hour.