County cool to EMS merger

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August 3, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Allen County commissioners gave no indication Tuesday they were about to cozy up to a proposal from Iola for it to take full responsibility for ambulance service in the county.
“I’m firmly convinced we have the best (ambulance) service we can have,” Commissioner Dick Works said Tuesday morning, and he didn’t “see any changes” coming.
A week ago, Ron Conaway, Iola ambulance director, made presentations to city councilmen and county commissioners at their respective meetings, where he said Iola would be willing to assume responsibility for ambulance service for all of the county, at a savings over what is spent today.
Commissioners’ response then was that a citizens committee might look at how the two services — Allen County answers all calls outside of Iola — could be merged, as was the case for many years.
Several who work with the county service questioned
 Iola’s proposal.
Works and Commission Chairman Rob Francis both gave unqualified support to the county service as discussions unfolded. Commissioner Gary McIntosh, who broached the citizens committee approach last week, was not at the meeting.
“We’re charged with providing service to the county,” Works said. “We need to focus on saving lives, not property,” in regard to Iola’s service being attached to its fire department and operated by personnel who have the dual role of providing medical service and fighting fires.
“There’s no comparison between” the two services, Works added, noting that many county ambulance personnel are trained as paramedics, which permits them to administer drugs and perform what might be life-saving procedures.
Every time a county ambulance is dispatched, it carries at least one paramedic, Jason Nelson, county director, said. Soon-to-retire City Administrator Judy Brigham told the Register Tuesday afternoon five Iola firefighters were certified paramedics and two others soon would be, which meant each shift had at least one paramedic on duty, often two.
Grady Ratliff, a county paramedic, said he thought it was difficult for a person to approach the dual role of firefighting and medical response and do both well, or even have the enthusiasm for treating sick and injured in the same context as fighting fires.
“Having firefighting and ambulance together” presents problems, said Randy Holtz of the county’s paramedics. “They’re smoke-eaters first. They start as firefighters and that’s what they are at heart.”
Additionally, Jason Nelson, county ambulance director, said county personnel have no stomach for training as firefighters, which Conaway said would be a provision for county personnel transferring to the city’s employ if a merger to Iola’s favor occurred.
Teri Cezar, a county crew member, said about 90 percent of those working on county ambulances didn’t live in Allen County and were not willing to. To have a proliferation of paramedics, as the county does, Nelson has to go outside the county to make hires.
“We got into this” to work in EMS, “and that’s what we’re focused on,” Ratliff said. “EMS is about patient care. Firefighting is about fire prevention and fighting fires first.”
Works acknowledged there is a ways to go in the merger debate.
“The discourse here today is so much higher (from a medical perspective) than last week,” Works said. You “can’t compare emergency medical service with a dual  purpose department.
“(County personnel) can be assured we’re committed to having the best ambulance service in Allen County,” he said. “There’s no comparison between the two (Allen County and Iola emergency services).”

WHEN THE city and county failed four years ago to reach resolution on one service, the result was two services starting in 2009.
Then, when the city agreed last year to provide a portion of its sales taxes to help fund construction of a new Allen County Hospital, the agreement was that no further ambulance talks would occur until 2015.
Because of that, Iola’s proposal came as a surprise to county commissioners.
Among those at Tuesday’s session was Vada Aikins, a Humboldt council member.
“I’m concerned about Humboldt and the rest of the county,” Aikins said. “Over half the county’s population lives outside Iola.”
She also was complimentary about the service provided to Humboldt by county crews and assured commissioners that Humboldt was eager to work with the county to improve facilities for ambulance and crew stationed in Humboldt.

A PRIMARY component of Conaway’s presentation would save taxpayers money with Iola at the helm, with one service and fewer personnel overall.
Same would work, probably even with greater savings, if the county were to serve Iola along with the rest of the county, said Terry Call, who tracks finances of county EMS.
“It’s about more than just money,” Francis added. “We want to have the best service we can for the county, and that’s what we have now. Allen County’s ambulance service, I’m often told at statewide meetings, is the envy of many other counties.”
The commissioners’ responsibility, Francis said, “is to be sure we’re able to take care of our citizens.
“We’re willing to move forward and discuss (ambulances) if the (Iola) city council wants to,” but his primary concern is all Allen Countians, Francis said.
That thought was echoed by Works, who noted that while he was elected from within one of three commission districts, his desire was to do what was best for all of Allen County.

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