May 21, 2013

Sedgwick County EMS seeks new crews, ambulance

Sedgwick County EMS is asking for two new crews and one ambulance in next year’s budget because of increased calls and fatigue among paramedics.

Sedgwick County EMS is asking for two new crews and one ambulance in next year’s budget because of increased calls and fatigue among paramedics.

EMS projects a 3 percent increase in emergency calls and 1 percent in non-emergency calls each year.

Director Scott Hadley told commissioners on Tuesday that crews are working longer hours, which has led to emergency personnel becoming fatigued and taking more sick leave.

That concerns commissioners, who noted that tired emergency personnel could affect patient care.

“They have people’s lives in their hands,” Commission Chairman Jim Skelton said.

EMS handled 56,566 calls last year — 50,764 emergencies and 5,802 considered not emergencies.

In 2004, total call volume was 41,821, records shared with commissioners showed. That had jumped to 54,242 total calls in 2011. More than 58,000 calls are projected for this year.

Not surprisingly, the number of hours worked on an ambulance is rising. Paramedics also have other duties, such as stocking ambulances, filling out paperwork and training, Hadley said.

In 2012, Sedgwick County EMS workers handled calls in an ambulance an average 5.4 hours of a 12-hour shift. The industry standard is an average 4.8 hours of a 12-hour shift, Hadley said. Inside the city limits of Wichita, the number of hours spent handling calls in an ambulance makes up about half the time of a 12-hour shift, Hadley said.

A graph of hours spent on calls shows dips when the county added crews. The number of hours spent on calls has increased steadily since 2011, when the county last added crews.

Public safety director Chad VonAhnen said the cost of adding two crews — eight full-time workers — and one ambulance next year would be $854,141.

VonAhnen also has requested $239,785 for six full-time workers who would relieve staff on vacation and out for other reasons. He said the number of relief emergency medical technicians — six — hasn’t changed in 20 years. EMS staff has increased by 44 employees while the number of relief workers has stayed the same, Hadley said.

VonAhnen and Hadley also noted a troubling statistic: The county had 50 “super users” who made 1,335 calls to 911 in a one-year period. EMS has requested a community-based paramedic program, in which specially trained paramedics would work to bring together the appropriate resources to meet the needs of those callers. That program is estimated to cost $242,305.

County Manager William Buchanan will present his recommended budget to commissioners at their regular meeting at 9 a.m. July 10. Public hearings are scheduled for 9 a.m. July 17 and 31.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on a budget at their Aug. 7 meeting, which starts at 9 a.m.

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