Conversations around the regionalization of EMS in the area are continuing this week, with a joint meeting between many local townships and state leaders.
The city of Lake Mills, the townships of Lake Mills, Waterloo, Aztalan and Milford, and state and county leaders were set to meet Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. to discuss the next steps in regionalizing EMS coverage in the Dane and Jefferson County areas.
This will be the third in a string of meetings between Cambridge Area EMS and local townships as representatives weigh their options on what EMS could look like locally. There has been a push for regionalization in the area, in order to offset costs and encourage stability for EMS coverage among the townships.
Representatives from the townships and EMS have expressed interest in Cambridge Area EMS as a possible provider, but there are questions that still need answering, as far as operational plans go. Those questions include where a local ambulance could be stored and operated from, what costs to the townships would be, and what staffing levels would look like.
The city of Lake Mills has also joined in on this conversation, after it pivoted to seeking contractors after running out of time to form a joint municipal department in December.
Cambridge Area EMS Chief Paul Blount and Cambridge fire and EMS commission president Mark Cook have met twice with representatives from the town of Lake Mills, and once with representatives from the towns of Aztalan, Milford and Waterloo, about the possibility of expanding the CAEMS coverage area to serve those towns. The townships were previously using service from nonprofit Lake Mills EMS, which is set to end its contracts in June 2023.
That conversation will continue Thursday, with input from two state representatives, the city, the townships and possibly other area EMS departments, who have all been invited.
The idea of regionalization comes from concerns over staffing and funding shortages, and frustration over a drawn-out decision-making process over the possibility of a joint EMS/fire department run by the city of Lake Mills.
“Lead, follow or get out of the way. And for a long time, the townships have been just following the leadership of (the city of) Lake Mills because it was convenient. They aren’t leading anymore. Maybe it’s time for the towns and a new organization to lead,” Steve Nass, Jefferson County Supervisor and town of Lake Mills resident said on Feb. 7.
Blount has said several times that in order for CAEMS to serve in the Lake Mills area, he would want to ensure that response times remained low, which might require having a location within the Lake Mills area to respond from, and store an ambulance or response vehicle.
Options for possible ambulance storage have included ambulance bays at the Lake Mills Fire Department facility in the city, or approaching the Lake Mills EMS board of directors about an arrangement to use the Lake Mills EMS facility on East Lake Street. Down the road, Blount proposed the idea of including ambulance storage in a future renovation to Lake Mills Town Hall, but that wouldn’t solve the problem immediately.
Should an arrangement between Cambridge Area EMS and any of the townships move forward, other considerations would be staffing levels and response location. CAEMS could potentially staff full-time paramedics to respond from Lake Mills, or rely on paid on call staff to respond, with follow-up from paramedics as needed. Municipalities will need to determine staffing levels envisioned, and the cost associated with that.
An early estimate of cost for CAEMS to serve the town of Lake Mills came in around $60 per capita, though that could change. Cost could vary based on whether other townships or the city of Lake Mills enlist CAEMS’ service.
The Cambridge fire and EMS district typically is funded through proportions of equalized property value with its current members, but Blount said that’s for both fire and EMS service. Because the townships are likely weighing EMS service mainly, Blount calculated costs on a per-capita basis.
A proposal for CAEMS service to the township also said that any costs involved in purchasing or renting ambulance storage space would fall to the town of Lake Mills and surrounding townships that would benefit, so that costs wouldn’t fall to other municipal members of the Cambridge fire and EMS Commission that weren’t impacted.
Cook has previously said the Cambridge fire and EMS commission isn’t interested in short-term contracts less than two years with area municipalities, instead favoring municipalities served by CAEMS become full members of the commission. Cook said that a short-term contract could be financially risky for the EMS district, should the commission sink funding for staffing and equipment into a contract that then doesn’t last. Cook has also maintained that an equal seat at the table for every commission member is a priority.
CAEMS currently has 22 paramedics, advanced EMTs and EMTs on staff, with three ambulances in service. The Cambridge Fire and EMS district currently serves the villages of Cambridge and Rockdale, and the towns of Christiana, Oakland and Lake Mills, at a total population of around 6500.
The city’s situation
Representatives from the city of Lake Mills met with Cambridge Area EMS Chief Paul Blount and Cambridge fire and EMS commission chair Mark Cook on Wednesday, Feb. 8, to discuss the possibility of a contract.
Cambridge Area EMS is one of two contractors in talks with the city right now, said city manager Drake Daily. Both of those contractors were presenting their pitches to the Lake Mills City Council on Feb. 21.
“We are still exploring our options as to what contractor we’re going to pursue,” Daily said. “Cambridge EMS is one that we’ve been in touch with … we had a good conversation. We’re still taking time to collect formal proposals and get the full proposal (from Cambridge).”
The one proposal already before the council came from Ryan Brothers Ambulance, a Madison-based provider that currently operates ambulances out of Madison, Deerfield, Fort Atkinson, Janesville and Sun Prairie.