Sedgwick giving up EMS permit

By Chad Frey
Newton Kansan – February 22, 2017

In many ways March 1 will be lights out for the Sedgwick EMS department, though residents of the town on the Harvey/Sedgwick County line will not be without services.

“The county and other communities will have to get together to figure out how to provide those services,” said James Reed, operations and compliance manager for the Kansas Board of Emergency Services.

Following a decision by the Sedgwick city council, the city will be giving up its permit for emergency services March 1. It brings a tumultuous period for Sedgwick EMS services to an end.

Saddled with staffing issues, the city has struggled to provide EMS services.

“This is a difficult decision and it was extremely difficult for the city council,” said Mayor Lynne Vigil. “… We are no longer able to staff it full time.”

In February of 2016, Sedgwick and Halstead approached Harvey County Communications with a joint solution, paging both offices on calls to Sedgwick. That agreement remained in place for several months, the result of discussions between the two communities.

With the number of calls being responded to by outside agencies early in the year, Sedgwick had to create a temporary agreement for EMS assistance with Halstead (and Newton, as a third option), paying outside departments per initial primary response for which there was no acknowledgment or response from Sedgwick.

The issue forced the city council to address the future of EMS services multiple times during the year and led to increases in on-call and per run pay for Sedgwick EMS staff. As a mostly volunteer department, requirements to become a certified emergency technician were also viewed as setbacks, but the city currently has five individuals enrolled in training.

Sedgwick hired a full time director for EMS services in October of 2016, Jennifer Cisneros. She began the task of turning around the service. She was faced with staffing issues — namely a lack of volunteers

Prior to Cisnero taking over as director on Oct. 17, 2016, the city had 70-plus calls where outside agencies were responding. Between October and December of 2017, outside agencies responded to just three calls in Sedgwick.

Cisnero is now leaving the department, for what mayor Lynne Vigil called “personal reasons.” That loss, coupled with financial concerns, is what pushed the council to shutter the service.

“We are losing our director and we had a time finding (that position),” said Thom Noone, a member of the city council. “Having one full time paramedic does not cover our schedule. You can’t fill the spot with one person. This person did what several directors have done in the past. You work your 8 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) and when calls come later, because that is what you do, you answer the call. You get tired, you get burned out.”

Noone said it is “tough” to tell staff to ignore calls and allow for the mutual aid system to operate and send EMS departments from other cities to cover calls.

Without staff, the ambulance will sit silent. It is unclear how long Sedgwick will be without a dedicated EMS service.

“We will still have first responder coverage,” Vigil said. :It will be through wherever the county assigns.”

“It will fall to the county to fix this,” Noone said

The county does assist with funding the Sedgwick EMS department.

Harvey County recently sent a quarterly payment to Sedgwick for $8,973.69. Annually the county sends more than $35,890.

“How we proceed is still being figured out,” said Anthony Swartzendruber, current financial officer and incoming county administrator. “This will be interesting to work through, but it is important.”

This is not the first time this has happened — Sedgwick was without an EMS service from 1981 to 1984.

“We had issues with the number volunteers who stepped up,” Noone said. “We lost our certification from the state; we got it back and have been running it again since then.”

Reed said Sedgwick is not alone in this struggle, and that the Kansas Board is seeing other communities struggling to maintain EMS services.

“It is not just Sedgwick,” Reed told The Kansan. “We have seen for years that services have had to shut down and have someone take over. It is not just a Kansas problem, it is a national problem.”

In Sedgwick’s case there are two major issues leading to the struggle — people and money.

Sedgwick pays volunteers, and increased that pay last year. However, there are not enough people in the fold to keep the service operating. In addition, the council does not believe it can raise enough money to pay enough full or part time staff.

“We have told the state, ‘we can’t do this,'” Noone said. “We don’t have the money to hire the number of paramedics that it takes. …; We don’t have the tax base to cover that and have a tax rate that people will find acceptable to live in your town.”


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
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