November 2, 2013

Logansport, Cass County discuss LFD ambulance

Rural/Metro manager: Personnel being retrained

by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune

---- — Logansport and Cass County officials discussed in a joint meeting Friday how an ambulance for the Logansport Fire Department would improve emergency medical services in the area, which many say is mired by slow response times and a lack of equipment from the county-contracted provider.

Cass County currently receives ambulance services from Rural/Metro, a national emergency service company that filed for bankruptcy protection late this summer. The county and the company are about 18 months into a five-year contract that requires no tax dollars, as the company operates on funds collected through patient billing.

Logansport Mayor Ted Franklin and LFD members lobbied heavily for an ambulance for the fire department during 2014 budget talks, saying firefighters were often beating Rural/Metro to calls, describing instances of patients waiting 20 to 40 minutes for an ambulance and referring to cases when paramedics arrived without the proper equipment.

Logansport City Council approved $100,000 to be used for a command vehicle and ambulance for the fire department when passing next year’s budget in October. In light of several council members’ concerns, Franklin requested more discussion on the matter and said the actual purchase of the ambulance would rely on further council approval.

Rural/Metro’s Cass County location has two advanced life support ambulances. Jeff Slusser, Cass County operations manager for Rural/Metro, said one ambulance always remains in the county, while another is at times used for transferring patients from Logansport Memorial Hospital to hospitals in Indianapolis. Slusser said longer response times are inevitable when one ambulance is out on a transfer and several emergency calls start coming in at around the same time.

“Most counties your size would have more ambulances, but they would be based in volunteer ambulance services,” Slusser said.

In an interview after the meeting, Slusser said, “As an [emergency medical services] professional, I would be 100 percent in favor of more EMS resources in Cass County,” adding that it was now in the hands of the local government. “Hopefully we’ll have a seat at the table.”

Logansport Fire Chief Mark Strong said the fire department would likely obtain a basic life support ambulance and use it as a backup when Rural/Metro gets inundated with calls. He said the ambulance would only be used for transfers from emergency scenes to Logansport Memorial Hospital and that costs could be recovered through patient billing. He added the fire department already has the staff to support an ambulance and maintain its firefighting duties.

Slusser said employee retraining has been conducted to mitigate paramedics and emergency medical technicians getting lost and arriving to scenes without proper equipment.

City council members raised some concerns during budget talks that because Cass officials have a contract with Rural/Metro, it is the county’s responsibility to provide the area with adequate ambulance services.

These concerns were reiterated at the meeting Friday through the suggestion of the county contributing some of its own finances toward improving ambulance services.

“What about the county gets some skin in the game here?” Logansport City Councilman Bob Bishop asked the two Cass County commissioners at the meeting.

Commissioners Sailors and Ralph Anderson said the county couldn’t afford contributing tax dollars toward ambulance services, which is why it hired a company that sustains itself on patient billing.

Anderson added the county provides a mechanism for incorporated cities and towns to fund services like this on their own through portions of a local option income tax.

While Logansport gets about $600,000 a year from that tax, none of it was used toward the allocation for the ambulance in its 2014 budget.

In an interview after the meeting, Franklin said this fund is currently being used to build up anticipated future expenses like replacing police squad cars and fire trucks, two of which are 13 years old.

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or Follow him: @PharosMAK