Changes could be forthcoming to the Highland Emergency Medical Service Department’s hospital transfer policy.
The EMS Department is projecting an 11 percent increase in non-emergency transfers over the prior year.
Those numbers, coupled with the department’s increasing overall call volume, are creating a strain on the department, according to EMS Chief Brian Wilson.
“We are now averaging 7 1/2 calls a day,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the department might have to consider limiting the number of hospital transfers and hire more staff in the near future.
A transfer puts an ambulance out of service on average 1 to 4 1/2 hours, depending on how far they have to transfer a patient, Wilson said.
“We just have to be smart about this,” he said. “Yes, we do have residents who have doctors on the Missouri side of the river. Yes, we are going to continue to take them there. But we have to draw the line at some point and look at what makes sense.
“…I know I don’t want to stand in front of this City Council now and say we were doing a non-emergency transfer up to Springfield, when someone’s grandma needed an ambulance.”
During Fiscal Year 2015, the Highland EMS department had 2,545 calls, which was up 170 calls from fiscal year 2014.
Wilson is projecting the overall call volume will increase by another 9.4 percent during the current fiscal year.
Wilson wants to have at least one ambulance available at all times.
“If we have to cut back on some of our longer trips (in order to do that), that’s what we will need to do,” he said.
Studying the issue
Wilson could not put his finger on why calls have increased so much.
“Is it because we have an increasing aging population?” he said. “Is it because we are growing? Is it because some people can’t afford health care, and we are their health care now? Or is it because we have talked for years that people should call 911, and now people are doing it?”
Wilson’s statistical data will be part of a larger report, which he is preparing for Police Chief Terry Bell, who also serves as the city’s public safety director. The report, will analyze the EMS Department and what changes it might need to address in the short- and long-term, Wilson said.
Highland EMS covers a 285-square-mile area, including the city of Highland, as well as Highland-Pierron, Grantfork, Marine, St. Jacob and St. Rose fire districts.
Wilson projects many of those fire districts will also see an increase in EMS call volume; some more than others. He cited Marine, for instance. Marine had 149 EMS calls in FY 2015. In FY 2016, Wilson expects Marine’s EMS call volume will surpass 220 calls.
“Do I need more full-time paramedics on staff?” Wilson asked. “I think we’re getting to the point where we have to take a hard look at that.”
The Highland EMS is comprised of 16 full-time employees, including 14 full-time paramedics and two full-time EMTs. The department also has four part-time paramedics and five part-time EMTs on staff.
Purchasing another ambulance will also be looked at, but it’s not cheap.
“Obviously, we can’t spend money we don’t have,” said Wilson, who noted the current EMS budget is about $2 million.
Highland EMS department mans three full-time ambulances stationed at Fire Station No. 1, and has one backup ambulance stored at Highland Communication Service’s office at 192 Woodcrest Drive.
Wilson said the department does not dedicate one of its ambulances to Highland and its neighboring districts.
“They roll as needed,” he said. “It all depends on which call comes in first.”
If the department runs out of ambulances, Wilson said he has to rely on “neighbors” to help out.
“We have a mutual aid policy and statewide mutual aid policy. So we can get ambulances. That’s never a problem,” he said.
Mutual aid ambulances could come from any number of places including Alhambra, Breese, Edwardsville, Pocahontas-Old Ripley and Troy, he said.
bout a month ago, the Highland EMS services were stretched to the limit when they had to answer 18 calls in a 24-hour period. To help handle that call volume and provide back up for the EMS department, an Edwardsville Fire Department ambulance was sent to Highland on five different occasions on that day, Wilson.
“(Edwardsville paramedics) were even feeling our stress at that point,” he said.
Highland EMS by the numbers
2,545 Total calls responded to in Fiscal Year 2015
2,708 Total calls projected in current fiscal year
736 Transfers expected this year
665 Transfers done last year
4 Number of ambulances, including one reserve