Council holds off on support of new ambulance
La PORTE — La Porte County EMS may have suffered another blow to the department’s reportedly already low moral after the La Porte County Council decided not to support a motion to add an additional ambulance, but instead tabled the matter to be discussed in July’s budget hearings.
“It’s very concerning. I was hoping to get a motion of support from them. We thought we were going to. We thought we had the support of the council on this topic,” said EMS Administrator Andrew McGuire.
La Porte County EMS has been facing a dramatically increasing call volume for three, and tracking for four, years straight. Their calls per year have increased by nearly 2,500 calls over this period, which has added heavy stress and fatigue to the EMTs and paramedics who run six 24/7 911 rigs stationed in Michigan City, La Porte and Wanatah.
Under the weight of this increased workload, McGuire has been pushing for adding the seventh ambulance and six new crew members to operate the ambulance 24/7 on a three shift rotation. The new ambulance’s full proposal would station the additional rig in a Rolling Prairie base, which is an area EMS has been trying to establish a full-time base in for more than 30 years to service northeastern La Porte County.
“The huge thing is it would’ve been a boost to the moral of the employees and the community knowing that this seventh ambulance is on its way,” McGuire said. “Our moral at our department is low. Our employees are fatigued, they’re tired.”
In fact, McGuire said three employees have already resigned within the last three weeks.
“Two of the three employees cited their reason for leaving was high call volume, low moral and, basically, burnout,” he said.
The employees haven’t left the EMS field, McGuire said, they simply went to another EMS service where the call volume is more manageable and produces less stress and fatigue.
Without the motion of support, McGuire said he cannot move ahead with ordering the new ambulance and ambulance equipment. The process of building the ambulance can take six to eight months, so McGuire was hoping get support so he could get the ball rolling in order to ensure the ambulance would be ready by the start of 2019.
Now, however, he stated his hands are tied and he cannot start the process. This could mean, even if the ambulance is approved at the July budget hearing, it may not be ready for the road until March or April.
“Now everything is left up in the air,” McGuire said.
Members of the council stated the issue with supporting the ambulance wasn’t necessarily the addition of the ambulance itself, but the cost of the six new crew members who would need to be hired to man the new 911 rig.
Due to being a recurring expense, the cost would need to be added to EMS’s operating budget and La Porte County Council President Randy Novak said they can’t guarantee the budget would clear at this time and wouldn’t want to give a false sense of security by supporting the motion without seeing budget numbers.
“I’m not sure we can get all six of those personnel in the budget,” he said.
Councilman Mark Yagelski stated he wasn’t opposed to purchasing a new ambulance at some point, but said, “we need to learn to be smarter with what we’re doing.”
EMS rotates 10 ambulances in their fleet, running six as 24/7 911 rigs, one as a transfer rig and three backups which are often used as standby rigs at sporting events.
Yagelski said instead of trading in an old 11th ambulance, EMS could hold it back and use it in their rotation as a seventh 911 rig.
McGuire warned against this, however, stating many of the backup ambulances are already in use or aren’t operational at all times. On any given day, McGuire said at least one ambulance is usually in the garage for maintenance.
Trying to incorporate a new 911 rig into the rotation they already have, McGuire said, would run the chance of running out of ambulances as they often already cut it close.
Councilman Mike Mollenhauer spoke out against the suggestion of using an older ambulance in the rotation, even if – as Yagelski suggested – the older model was used just as the transfer ambulance.
“I’ve seen too many times in the past where (the county) wants to keep old vehicles and piecemeal them instead of biting the bullet and getting something decent and safe and something that’s not going to break down,” he said.
Councilman Cary Kirkham also warned of the potential risk to citizens by trying to use older ambulances or stretching out the current fleet and risking not having an ambulance available when needed.
“If we’re going to cheapen up and lose an ambulance and lose a life because of that, then we did a misdeed to the county taxpayers,” he said.
Yagelski moved to table the motion of support, in order to address it at budget time. Yagelski reminded those in attendance that if the matter was voted on and failed, it wouldn’t be able to be addressed again for a year. By tabling the matter, it can be un-tabled and discussed at future meetings or at the budget hearing.
The table motion passed in a tight vote, 4-3. Councilmen Kirkham, Mollenhauer and John Sullivan voted against tabling the motion of support. Councilmen Yagelski, Terry Garner, Jeff Santana and Novak voted in favor.
McGuire said he hopes the matter will be un-tabled at the La Porte County Council meeting on June 18 and voted on, but he suspects it won’t be un-tabled until the budget hearing in July since that was the point behind the motion.
“I’m still hopeful this will all work out in the end,” he said.