By Travis Mounts
What’s the best way to provide ambulance service in Sumner County?
That’s a question that county officials are again trying to answer. Discussions have taken place on and off for more than a decade, but for now there’s not a specific plan to replace the current patchwork of local emergency medical service (EMS) providers.
For the past two weeks, the Star-Argosy has looked at the situation. This week we take a look at the various EMS services in Sumner County.
In 2011, Argonia EMS turned its license over to Norwich EMS and effectively ceased to exist as in independent operation. Today, if local volunteers are available, the Argonia ambulance will respond to a local call. But if it’s not available, an ambulance from Norwich will respond.
In the past three years, there have been just a handful of times when the local ambulance wasn’t able to respond. But in general, the switch does mean the potential for longer response times. The alternative, however, is no EMS service.
There is no state law requiring any entity to provide ambulance service.
Conway Springs EMS maintains two units at all times. That means there must be four people available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Staffing enough volunteers is an ongoing issue.
“We’re critical for daytime now. We’ve had too many people leave,” said EMS director Jim Brozovich. Most of the volunteers are older and many are looking to retire, he said. Younger volunteers are needed to keep the service going.
The city has authorized two part-time positions for the day shift, but those are being filled by current volunteers. It helps guarantee daytime hours are covered, but doesn’t help the overall staffing situation.
Miller EMS out of Medford, Okla., is contracted by Sumner County Hospital District No. 1 (Caldwell Hospital) to manage Caldwell EMS. That contract includes providing staff when there aren’t enough volunteers.
With just three volunteers, that means Miller EMS generally supplements the staffing several times a week. Owner Matt Miller said they often have one paid employee working with one volunteer.
Miller said his company contracted with Caldwell about the same time Argonia turned its license over to Norwich. He said moving to a paid service will most likely be the outcome for all volunteer services.
“We are currently discussing that issue with the (Caldwell) hospital right now. We’re there now. We’re beyond that point,” he said. “We need to be a paid service if we’re going to continue to provide that service.”
It’s an expensive proposition. Miller said his costs for one ambulance service – staffing, supplies, vehicle costs, etc. – are between $400,000 and $425,000 per year.
South Haven is in the Caldwell EMS coverage area.
Mulvane EMS covers the city, and the area on both sides of the Sedgwick-Sumner county line, and contracts with Sumner County to cover the rural area south of Mulvane. The EMS also covers a portion of the Kansas Turnpike.
It is a professionally-staffed service that maintains two ambulance units all the time, one of which was added at the beginning of this year. The city is getting ready to put one of those units in a new facility by the Kansas Star Casino. The land was provided by the casino, although the casino isresponsible for just a fraction of overall calls.
Mulvane EMS has a large service area west of the city. Railroad tracks split Mulvane and the EMS coverage area in two, and up to 30 trains pass through daily. Trains can sometimes delay response times 10-15 minutes.
The Mulvane city administrator said it’s expensive to operate an EMS unit, especially if you look at the potential downtime of any unit.
“You’ve got to be prepared (to respond to an emergency. You’re paying them to wait,” he said.
Belle Plaine and Oxford
When Argonia was debating what to do with its service in 2011, Belle Plaine had a mix of paid staffers and volunteers.
Today, it’s an all-paid service. In addition to a full-time director, there are 18 part-time employees. Most of them are full-time employees elsewhere, such as with Sedgwick County EMS.
“Our only issue right now is we don’t have 24-7 ALS (advanced life support),” said EMS director Garalee Haskins. She serves as EMS director for Belle Plaine.
Haskins said ALS support is nice to have but not required. Belle Plaine has two ambulances, but generally needs just the first one.
Haskins’ second job is as EMS director for Oxford, which is not affiliated with Belle Plaine EMS.
Oxford EMS is similar to Argonia. Oxford has a first responder unit staffed by volunteers, and is under Wellington EMS. It’s been that way for several years. Oxford’s proximity makes it easier for Wellington EMS to provide service.
Wellington EMS is operated by the city, but covers about one-third of Sumner County via a contract with the county. That includes covering Oxford as well as eastern and southeastern parts of the county, such as Gueda Springs, and other areas near the city, such as Mayfield. Wellington EMS also is responsible for 26 miles of turnpike.
The EMS department maintains a total of five EMTs (emergency medical technicians) and paramedics per shift. It’s a paid staff supplemented by two reserves. The city of Wellington is the primary financial supporter, with a county subsidy paying for the unincorporated areas.
Clearwater EMS covers a portion of northern Sumner County, as well as the city of Clearwater and immediate area surrounding the city in Sedgwick County. Most of Sedgwick County, including the city of Wichita, is serviced by the countywide EMS.