By Amy Houston
Conway Springs EMS is in jeopardy, residents were told last week during a town hall meeting.
EMS director Jim Brozovich spoke during the meeting Thursday, July 17, to provide information and answer questions about the future of Conway Springs EMS. He said 12 people are on the volunteer service, which provides basic and advanced life support.
“Our volunteers have never wanted paid,” he added. “That’s just amazing.”
Brozovich said the volunteers work 12-hour shifts, and a normal response time is eight to nine minutes. Conway Springs averages 150 calls a year, he continued, and it includes a primary and secondary ambulance.
Brozovich explained that two certified technicians must always be on call. He said five volunteers usually are around during the day, but seven commute out of Conway Springs for work. Brozovich remarked that Conway Springs employers are good about letting workers go on a call who are volunteer EMS personnel, but Brozovich said if they have back-to-back calls, they may be gone from work for seven hours.
He said the overall problem was that volunteers were getting older, and young people were not signing up to take their place. Brozovich remarked that young people don’t volunteer their time like previous generations did.
“It’s a very self-consuming, self-absorbed group of individuals that don’t see a need for volunteering,” he added.
Brozovich said the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day are especially difficult to staff because volunteers want to travel or spend time with their families, but that’s when call volumes spike in the area.
“We have a significant coverage area,” Brozovich said.
He pointed out that the service’s license could be revoked if it couldn’t cover shifts. He said he was looking for help from the community because the service was “desperate” for volunteers.
Training for first responders costs $500 to $600, he explained, and training for an emergency medical technician is $1,000. He said the city had offered to pay that cost in exchange for a two-year contract with the volunteer.
Brozovich said the busiest times for EMS were daytime, followed by evenings, then the midnight to 6 a.m. period. He reminded the audience that EMS provides community services such as CPR training for schools and nursing homes, blood pressure checks, welfare checks and drug disposal.
County services are not an option, he continued, because Sedgwick County won’t respond to Conway Springs calls and Sumner County has no EMS. He said if Conway Springs had no EMS, Norwich and Clearwater might respond if they had staff available. However, that would increase response times.
From a financial standpoint, Brozovich explained that Conway Springs EMS must write off the difference between what it bills and what insurance companies are willing to pay. It also writes off delinquent bills. He said the fee it charges for advanced life support is $750.
Brozovich said the community should look at paying EMS workers. He said salaries would come from the city budget, but even staffing “the bare minimum” would require a mill levy increase.
In response to questions, Brozovich said eight more volunteers were needed and that he had used various methods – Facebook, bulletin boards and the Conway Springs Star – to get the word out. Asked what other EMS entities do to entice volunteers, he said some pay for every 12 hours of pager time while others offer pay for training, uniforms or on a per-call basis.
Some Conway Springs EMS volunteers were among about 20 people present for the meeting. They said complaints they had heard about volunteering for EMS included too much time away from family and a reluctance to work holidays without pay.
City Clerk Kathy Barkley said the city had considered paid positions to supplement the volunteers. However, one EMS volunteer in attendance said it could be awkward to ask people to volunteer alongside people who were being paid. Brozovich said he thought Conway Springs should look at transitioning to a partly paid staff and, eventually, to a fully paid staff.
One person asked why Conway Springs didn’t consider consolidation with another service, like Norwich and Argonia did. Brozovich said the looked at the idea with Wellington, but most places that make a change choose to switch to a countywide service.
“The compromise between Norwich and Argonia is almost unheard of,” he added.
A woman from Norwich EMS said the consolidation was working well, but response times weren’t ideal. Brozovich mentioned a similar problem in Belle Plaine, which gave up its EMS license and asked Mulvane, Clearwater and Conway Springs to help with its calls.
Brozovich said Conway Springs responded to two calls in Belle Plaine and took 30 minutes to arrive. One call was for a cardiac arrest.
“That person was expired,” Brozovich said.
Suggestions from the crowd to publicize the lack of volunteers included mailing out information or putting out fliers. One man suggested targeting young people with families in town. However, Brozovich said his daughter was an EMT, but she had four children and it was tough to find babysitters. A woman interjected that it’s different for this generation of young parents because grandparents don’t always live down the street to help care for kids.
Brozovich said the state was demanding more education, recertification and responsibilities from EMS personnel. He said a three-month class for first responders would start in August in Norwich, meeting two evenings a week and on three Saturdays. He said Wellington would host an EMT class on Saturdays for six months.
Other ideas to publicize the need for EMS volunteers were speaking to high school students on career day to encourage them to get trained and setting up a booth at the fall festival. Mayor Dee Pettegrew suggested giving a short presentation during local church services. Brozovich said he was willing, but some churches didn’t believe public-service announcements were appropriate during their Sunday services.
One man said he suffered a heart attack and he believed that Conway Springs EMS was important.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” he said. “I wouldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for these guys, so we need to support them any way we can.”
Pettegrew said another town hall meeting may be held in the future. Those interested in volunteering for EMS may contact City Hall or visit Facebook.com/CSEMS.