Agencies respond to concerns about EMS

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By NewsCow staff
August 2, 2013 - 2:45:51 pm

In response to the recent social media campaign regarding broken down ambulances in Winfield, the city of Winfield, Cowley County, Winfield Area EMS and William Newton Hospital have issued the following statement.

It is available below in its entirety as it was submitted to NewsCow:

Recent news concerning the availability of emergency equipment for Winfield Area Emergency Medical Service (WAEMS) has increased the need for a public response. For some time, community leaders have been working on a short-term service plan for WAEMS and a long-term strategy for the provision of emergency medical response to all residents of Cowley County. Patient safety shall remain the ultimate priority, both today and into the future.

Today, all four ambulances are available for community service. Ambulances within the WAEMS system average 12,000 to 15,000 miles per year.

Additionally, WAEMS responds to approximately 1,900 calls per year.

Last Tuesday morning, representatives from the City of Winfield, Winfield Area EMS, William Newton Hospital (WNH), and Cowley County met to continue 2014 budget discussions for improving the quality of the aging ambulance fleet. The collective entities agreed to begin a lease/purchase for a new ambulance. Officials also agreed to move forward with the additional refurbishments and preventive maintenance schedules necessary to maintain the existing fleet.

Final adoption of the budget should be August 19, 2013. At that time, the City and the County should be able to support the acquisition of an ambulance in 2013, with first payment in 2014.

County and City representatives, along with WNH have encouraged WAEMS to consider the purchase of a demonstration unit, with an expected cost of $150,000, which would allow quicker delivery. Otherwise, it will take approximately 7 months after order to receive an ambulance.

In addition to enhanced maintenance and the anticipated lease of a new unit this year, the funding partners expect to take a more active role with William Newton Hospital in the provision of service today and planning for the future. We also need to better define roles and responsibilities within each agency. The structure of emergency medical service by which WAEMS operates is often confusing to the public.

Formed in 1968 when the local funeral home could no longer provide the service, WAEMS began as a collaborative effort between the City, County, and William Newton Hospital. Funding was to be provided by the City and the County, while authority to manage the service was given to the Hospital.

The Winfield Area EMS continues as originally established.

Today, Cowley County is the largest contributor of funds to WAEMS, levying 1.5 mills of property tax county-wide.

Other than for a very small area of the county served by Cedar Vale EMS, these funds are divided between Winfield and Arkansas City, in accordance with state statute.

In 2013, Cowley County budgeted to provide WAEMS with approximately $180,000, while the City of Winfield budgeted to provide $118,000.

Generally, tax money is directly given to WAEMS and those funds, in addition to fees for service, are available for operating the service.

Depending upon the number of patient runs and fees collected, WAEMS annually collects around $700,000 in fees.

The total annual budget for WAEMS is approximately $1 million.

Continued economic pressures have forced WAEMS to take a stronger look at its budget. Like any other health care provider, reimbursements for Medicare and Medicaid have declined.

With an aging population, these cuts are more noticeable than might be experienced in large communities.

Additionally, assessed valuation stagnation within the City and County during the recession, plus changes to the machinery and equipment laws, have made revenue increases from growth almost non-existent.

This information is not an excuse, but a review of the fiscal realities that everyone faces. Fiscal realities, coupled with rising equipment costs and scheduling issues for EMS personnel, require that we analyze and consider adjusting our forty year old model in providing service.

During the past year, staff members from the City of Arkansas City, City of Winfield, WAEMS, William Newton Hospital and Cowley County have been discussing long-term strategies to provide consistent, reliable, and affordable EMS services.

There are a number of ways to provide service. The most prevalent system in Kansas is fire-based EMS. Currently, the City of Winfield Fire Department is dispatched to assist WAEMS on most emergency ambulance runs in Winfield and within Fire District #7, at no additional charge to the patient. Another method is county-wide EMS, similar to Butler County and Sedgwick County.

There are a few private companies (almost all receiving public subsidies) and a few that are still hospital based. We will consider any system or any change that might improve patient care while maintaining affordability to the patient and the taxpayer.

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