WELLINGTON — The South Lorain County Ambulance District will move forward with a plan to cut response time by reducing crews from three to two people per shift despite concerns from employees and the Wellington Fire Department.
Robert Holmes, the district’s board chairman, said the plan will go into effect March 1 and will be evaluated after six months.
The district’s ambulance station was packed with employees opposing the plan at the district’s board meeting Tuesday night.
Right now one person is on station during each 12-hour shift. When a call comes in, two people come from home and then all three leave together, which takes, on average, six minutes.
The board’s plan to cut response time is to staff the station with two people every 12-hour shift so that they can leave almost immediately when a call comes in. This would result in a total cut of 21 12-hour shifts per week, Holmes said.
Part-time employees, the majority of the district’s workforce, said the plan puts the community in danger in situations when two people are needed in the back of the ambulance while a third drives. It also negatively affects the salaries of the workforce, many who have been there for more than a decade.
Further, employees said they were told of the plan as a mandate and were not allowed any input. Some questioned whether the board did its homework in formulating the way to cut response times.
Holmes told employees should they need a third person on a call, one of two supervisors also on duty during the shift would come as backup. Employees balked at this answer, saying that leaves them with no one should a second call come in at the same time.
Wellington Fire Chief Mike Wetherbee worried that the ambulance crew reduction will translate to more work for the Fire Department, who he envisions would be called in situations when the two-person ambulance team needs backup.
“I will say that we will do anything we can possibly to help out, but we just cannot support that type of run volume. We can’t take that type of hit to our budget,” Wetherbee told Holmes. “We can’t be on call for you guys, I don’t know how else to put that. We can’t be a continuous third person.”
Holmes assured Wetherbee that this would not be the case, but Wetherbee was still doubtful after the meeting.
He said that the fire department will never deny a call, but he said that he did expect the department would see a bigger call volume with the reduced ambulance crew.
Holmes said new technology in all of the ambulance vehicles — specifically tools that lift patients and do chest compressions — will help crews safely operate with two people.
Holmes said the reductions would also decrease overtime pay for the few full-time employees and cut into salaries for the 20-something part-time employees, “but that’s not our point.
“We pay well. We’re not doing it for the money, we’re doing it for them — the people that we ask to vote for our levies and pay taxes — to give them better service,” Holmes said.
Doug Campbell, a part-time paramedic with the district and spokesman for the employees, objected to nearly every point Holmes put forth.
He said he didn’t know any reason why the board would cut the crew from three to two people if not to save money, and that doing so would put people in danger.
He asked the board to reconsider with input from the employees, but Holmes said no.
“We feel that there’s going to be a win-win situation here,” Campbell said. “All we ask is that you allow further discussions and allow us to have input. This is a community we love too, and we want to see it stay strong. We don’t want to see it reduce our coverage and areas.”