EMS merger numbers key to debate

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March 20, 2013 - 12:00 AM

The greatest obstacle to merging Iola and Allen County ambulance services may be concerns about control, Carl Slaugh, Iola administrator, told county commissioners Tuesday morning.
Maybe a better word would be accountability, said Commission Chairman Dick Works.
Iola and county officials have met several times to discuss how to merge the service, including Monday night when Ryan Sell, speaking for the city, proposed a plan to incorporate the two services with the fire chief at the top. That plan was somewhat similar to what the county and Iola did for years before a split in 2008.
Works countered with a handout that proposed a Public Safety Authority, which Terry Call, who does county ambulance billing and mapping, fleshed out in a proposal of his own.
Under Call’s plan county commissioners would be the final authority, with emergency medical services and Iola fire answerable to a Public Safety Board under the commissioners. Iola fire would continue to have a role in EMS, with ambulances in Iola stationed at the county’s facility on North State Street.
All revenue from runs would go into one pot, reducing dependency on tax dollars.
For clarity, the county spends about $1.3 million on ambulance service outside of Iola and the expectation is that cost would increase little with one service. The rationale is that one set of ambulances in Iola could meet local demands, the same as two sets have been doing.
More than $900,000 to support $1.3 million in expenses for county ambulances comes from run revenue, with another $270,000 from a 2.739-mill property tax levy. Any additional money needed is transferred from the county general fund.
Iola ambulances generate about $300,000 in revenue from runs in the city and the service benefits from an $80,000 county subsidy.
That means if the $380,000 in city revenue were dedicated to one serving all of the county, tax support would be reduced substantially, or about 3 mills, Works noted Monday night.
Call predicted all full-time employees of the two services could continue to work and that a countywide service would be more efficient.
There are similarities between the plans Call and Sell proposed, either of which would result in one service.
“Both plans make ambulance service better,” said Commissioner Tom Williams, with a caveat: “As long we’re agreeable to a (public safety) board.”
The control structure is a sticking point with commissioners, who have noted repeatedly that they are statutorily responsible for ambulance service within the county’s boundaries.
With either plan, Humboldt and Moran would continue to have ambulances in their cities 24 hours a day, and first responders, in most cases volunteers, would be available to help ahead of an ambulance’s arrival.
Williams said statistics showed survival rate improved considerably if a first responder was on scene within five minutes.
“A first responder in five minutes and an ambulance and paramedic in 10 minutes, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Williams said.

SLAUGH gave commissioners preliminary figures on what the city anticipates to spend this year on fire and EMS services.
With the two together, as they have been since 2008, he said annual expenses were about $1.175 million. Take out EMS personnel and the figure is $884,000.
The city-county committee working to reach a proposal for a blending of the two services asked Monday night for Iola fire and EMS budgets, as well as one that had the city operating the countywide service. Slaugh said he would have specific numbers later.
When the state Board of EMS looked at the two services, its first recommendation was to have one service for the county, the most economical approach. It also offered two other options: do nothing or go to a third provider, with Works allowing that a  third provider might be Iola operating a countywide service.

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