Politics & Government

Wichita, Sedgwick County at odds on non-emergency ambulance service

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Negotiations over a new contract for ambulance service hit a roadblock Tuesday, and the Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission will meet to try to hammer out a pact before a critical deadline at the end of the month.

The City Council balked at approving a new contract with county Emergency Medical Services on Tuesday but committed to a joint meeting with the commission on June 28.

The county runs the ambulance service and the city contracts with the county for service within city limits.

The county has to provide ambulance service through the end of the year, come what may. But the city has only until July 1 to decide whether to pull out of the contract.

If that deadline passes, the city loses its negotiating leverage to make changes because the current contract will automatically be extended by another year.

The main sticking point is how the county service will handle non-emergency transport.

In addition to responding to emergency calls, the county also covers routine transportation of patients who aren’t in crisis but need medical care while moving between facilities.

Some common scenarios are patients being transported from a hospital to a rehabilitation facility or home care or from a nursing home to a doctor visit.

Private ambulance companies – and some city officials – say those trips could be more efficiently provided by the private sector.

Supporters say it would reduce waiting times when the county ambulances get called off routine runs to deal with emergencies.

County officials don’t want to give up those trips, which generate about $200,000 a year to help cover the high, fixed costs of the emergency medical system.

In the latest draft of the contract, the county has committed to performing 98 percent of non-emergency transports within one hour, said commission Chairman David Unruh.

Former council member Greg Ferris, representing a private ambulance company called APS, said that’s not good enough.

He said the county should be required to give medical providers and families the option of hiring a private ambulance service for any run the county can’t do within an hour.

“Ninety-eight success means 2 percent failure,” he said. “I don’t know how you can say that’s OK.”

Unruh said patients aren’t endangered by delays because they’re under medical supervision before, during and after transport.

He did acknowledge it can be a burden for family members, who might have to wait with the patient for the transport to take place.

He also said the county wouldn’t mind bringing private ambulance services into the mix as long as they have to meet the same rules and standards the county must adhere to.

Unruh predicted the issues will be settled before the joint meeting.

“Hopefully the 28th will be the opportunity for us to sing ‘Kumbaya,’ ” he said.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas