Minn. EMS agency reduces paid staff, adds volunteers to increase coverage

The hope is the new structure will allow for a second crew when the first crew is conducting a patient transport or answering an emergency call

By Brian Todd

WABASHA, Minn. — The Wabasha City Council is hoping fewer full-time and part-time employees on the city's ambulance service will lead to better coverage for the city and Saint Elizabeth's Medical Center.

On Tuesday night, the council voted to restructure the ambulance service, reducing the number of staff positions and increasing the number of volunteer members of the service, said City Administrator Chad Springer.

The city's plan for the ambulance service is to eliminate the two part-time positions and eliminate one of three full-time positions. Previously, the ambulance service had a director, two full-time EMTs, two part-time EMTs and about 20 volunteers who were either certified EMTs or first responders.

The new structure will have a full-time director and assistant director who are both EMTs, but a larger number of volunteers. The new director is Gene Jensen, a former volunteer EMT, and a volunteer firefighter in Wabasha. Interim director Amanda Murphy is the new assistant director, Springer said.

The increased number of volunteers will come from increasing the on-call and service pay for the volunteers, Springer said. When on-call, EMTs will earn $6 per hour and first responders $4. Previously, they earned $2.75 an hour on-call. When a call comes in, that pay jumps to $15 for EMTs and $11 for first responders.

"The new director has already brought some EMTs back, and we have a new first responder class of about 15," Springer said.

The hope is this new structure will allow for a second crew when the first crew is conducting a patient transport or answering an emergency call. Right now, Murphy said, the ability to cover transport calls from Saint Elizabeth's is about 50 percent. While the goal is to be able to take 100 percent of transport calls, a realistic number is closer to about 80 percent.

Murphy added that transportation calls are "the moneymaker for the service."

"We have struggled making that goal (of 50 percent)," Springer said. "Rural ambulance is changing all over the board, and we're looking to change with it."

Kurt Henn, medical staff liaison and director of pharmacy at St. Elizabeth's, said the hospital is very hopeful the city's new plan will lead to better coverage for the hospital. Currently, Saint Elizebeth's sends between eight and 12 transport calls a week to other hospitals.

Without reliable transportation from Wabasha Ambulance, the hospital would suffer, he said. "Most rural facilities around the state, there's a limit on what we can do," he said. "We need to get them to the next level of care."

The city and hospital are trying to work together to create an ambulance service that not only serves the greater Wabasha area but the needs of Saint Elizabeth's as well, said Saint Elizabeth's spokeswoman Jenny Schlagenhaft

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