Can the South Lorain County Ambulance District maintain its services with one less crew member per shift?
That’s the question employees asked the SLCAD board Jan. 11 after its members voted to cut three-person crews down to two people for at least six months in an effort to lower response times.
When a third ambulance worker is needed on a call, help will come from either one of two supervisors on the shift or from the Wellington fire department.
With three-person crews, one stays in the station while two respond to an emergency call. This usually takes six to eight minutes, the board said.
The move will also eliminate 21 12-hour shifts per week from the SLCAD schedule, but the board said it plans to hire two new full-time employees in the near future.
District employees as well as firefighters from Wellington and Ashland packed the meeting to voice their concerns about the plan.
Wellington fire chief Mike Wetherbee said be thinks the added responsibilities would drive up his department’s number of calls and, in turn, its budget.
“We’ll never deny a call but can’t be the continuous third person,” he said. “”We met about this one time. I walked away from that meeting thinking I needed a lot more information. I needed run statistics, which I’ve gotten very little of. I’ve had to put together numbers theoretically.”
Doug Campbell, a part-time paramedic, said taking shifts away will not only sacrifice service when two people are needed in the back of an ambulance, but also cut into the salaries of employees, many of which are already part-time.
He said employees were first notified of the changes Dec. 20.
“Emotions in the room from that day ranged from anger to disbelief,” he said. “There was crying. Five days before Christmas you spring this on people. People who have bills to pay. It’s been like clockwork. They’ve been here for years. If they don’t receive that new full-time EMT or medic job, all of their other shifts are reduced because they’re covered by the full-time person.”
Board president Robert Holmes said the fire district will not be asked to provide backup any more than it already has. Wetherbee said the WFD regularly helps out on calls involving unresponsiveness, shortness of breath, overdoses, and cardiac arrest.
“We’re not asking you to do any more than you’ve been doing,” said Holmes. “I don’t know how that got started or got miscommunicated. We’d like to come to your board and present that.”
Wetherbee said he still expects more work for the WFD as a result.
“We can’t break our budget to help, but we’ll do everything we can to help,” he said. “I think our runs will increase… I’m not going to deny service or care to anyone in our district. That would be ethically wrong.”
Holmes acknowledged that the changes will affect employees’ salaries but said cost-cutting is not part of the motivation for the changes.
He said 90 percent of ambulance districts in Ohio use two-person crews. But Campbell said that figure doesn’t take into account the difference between rural and densely populated areas.
“We should strive to do more than what 90 percent of the state of Ohio does,” he said. “We should be better than that. We want to be better than that. I run in Sullivan. When two other EMTs show up with me, we still have two in the back. We don’t tell someone to stay behind. We want that extra hand. It’s the way rural America does it. A two-person truck works when the hospital runs take less than 10 minutes, but with us, it can take up to 30 minutes.”
Another factor in the decision, Holmes said, was new equipment such as the LUCAS II machine, which automates chest compressions and reduces the need for two medical personnel in addition to a driver.
“This wasn’t just some sort of quick decision,” he said. “We’ve done our homework on it and looked into it as far as the numbers and so forth. We decided to try this for six months and revisit it after. As far as I and the board are concerned, we’re still going to go forward with this project March 1.”
Employees said they’re also concerned about what will happen if a second call comes in after supervisors or firefighters have already provided backup. They asked why cuts are being made after a levy was just passed.
Approved by voters last March, the levy was a 3.25-mill renewal and increase expected to generate $801,023 over five years.
“We added 0.25 to that levy because we lowered the previous levy by .5,” said Holmes. “We found out that we needed more to run the business. This is a business. It’s not a honeymoon here.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Jonathan Delozier | Wellington Enterprise South Lorain County Ambulance District board president Robert Holmes lays out a plan to employees to cut crews down to two people starting March 1.