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Genesee County communities try new solution to ambulance shortage

Cities and townships are signing direct service agreements with ambulance companies
Medstar ambulance
Medstar ambulance(source: WJRT)
Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 6:17 PM EDT
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GENESEE COUNTY, Mich. (WJRT) - Genesee County has been dealing with an ambulance shortage all year.

The county reported 21 days over seven months in late 2020 when zero ambulances were available to respond to calls for help. The county reaches “critical status” for ambulances with five or fewer units available almost daily -- sometimes multiple times a day.

That was the case Thursday morning, when Genesee County had fewer than a handful of ambulances available. When that happens, the Genesee County 911 Center is forced to call in ambulances from outside areas or redirect an ambulance from a scene where it may not be needed.

Ambulances in Genesee County currently work under the County Medical Control Authority and mostly serve the entire county. Several communities in Genesee County are trying a possible solution to the problem by signing contracts directly with ambulance companies.

Medstar Ambulance has agreements with Davison and Richfield townships and the city of Davison. The city of Burton is planning to sign a similar agreement with the company soon. Talks are under way with several other communities.

“We’re only bringing to Genesee County what is in place in just about everywhere else,” said Medstar CEO Kolby Miller. “And in those areas where it exists, it exists very effectively.”

Medstar serves communities in seven other counties, which have direct service agreements with the company. Miller said Genesee County needs this model to end the ambulance shortage issue.

“There is occasionally a late response time when the system is stressed or there’s multiple dozens of calls at the same time. But by and large service agreements with response time targets, clinical targets and community engagement provide consistency, reliability, and individual accountability,” he said.

Miller said that’s the benefit for both people in need of help and the community where they live. They know who to hold responsible if they have any issues with Medstar’s service. Right now, he said that’s kept pretty quiet and not fully addressed.

It’s not clear how soon Medstar’s local service agreements will go into effect.

“We want to make sure that the process is right, the planning is right so that when we get to the stage of actually implementing call handoffs, that everybody is on board,” Miller said. “Everybody understands the outcome goals and we’re all working together to make the change.”

Even with individual partnerships, he said Medstar still remains available to help the rest of the county. Medstar just purchased 10 new ambulances to ensure they can.

Recruiting enough paramedics also will remain important. From 2016 to 2019, the number of students graduating from paramedic training programs dropped from 1,200 per year to just 250, according to the Michigan Bureau of EMS, Trauma, and Preparedness.

The agency found that low beginning pay rates were among the reasons that fewer people are joining the profession. In 2017, EMTs in Michigan made less than $16 an hour on average, which equates to about $32,000 a year.

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