In 2023, Waunakee’s Emergency Management Service will improve its service as it adds paramedics to staff two ambulances at all times.
At their Aug. 1 meeting, the Waunakee Village Board expressed support for a plan to add six full-time paramedics over the next two years in an effort to increase the number of calls the local EMS service can respond to without mutual aid.
EMS Director Scott Russell attended the board meeting to present his plan – along with the budgetary impact. Currently, the EMS has two ambulances and a jump car that can be used when staffing is low. The jump car allows a paramedic to respond and provide medical care to the patient until an ambulance arrives.
Currently, Waunakee Area EMS is staffed with a medical director contracted out through UW-Consortium, a captain, and six full-time paramedics, 14 part-time paramedics and 29 volunteers ranging from paramedics to drivers, Russell said. They serve a district comprising Waunakee and surrounding areas in Westport, the town and village of Dane, Vienna and Springfield.
But, the department is unable to staff both of its ambulances full-time. As volunteers sign up, three people can staff the shift.
“If we don’t have any other volunteers to sign up, we’re only able to get that one ambulance out the door. The second goes out of service,” Russell said.
Infrequently--about 11% or 12% of the time--two volunteers do sign up, allowing the two ambulances to become operational.
Russell then presented call volumes since 2017, noting the EMS has increasingly relied on mutual aid from other departments to respond with ambulances. During 2020, when volunteers were unable to work, they spent more time with EMS, allowing the second ambulance to be used, he said.
“But right now, unfortunately, last year, we had 203 calls we weren’t able to make it to, and this year, we’re tracking towards 213 calls,” Russell said.
A number of different agencies respond for mutual aid in the district, but for the Village of Waunakee, Middleton or Madison ambulances respond, more often Madison.
Those mutual aid calls result in longer response times, according to Russell.
“When we’re in house, we’re averaging 4 minutes and 51 seconds from time of page to time with patient,” Russell said. ”We’re pretty proud of those numbers. Right now, we’re actually the fastest out the door in the county.”
When mutual aid responds, the time increases to over 15 minutes, he said, calling that time concerning.
Madison’s response team can require a fire department to respond, as well, Russell said, noting last year, Waunakee Fire responded to 31 calls.
Waunakee EMS is also missing out on about $125,000 to $150,000 in revenue it would see from providing ambulance service for those calls, he added.
The proposal for staffing both ambulances full time would require six more full-time paramedics. Russell added that the department would purchase a used ambulance as a back-up if either of the other two broke down.
The additional hiring would take place over two years, adding $35 per capita to the budget the first year, and $45 the second year. The 2022 budget is assessed at $25 per capita. It increases the budget from just over $1.4 million in 2022 to $2 million in 2023, then $2.061 million in 2024.
Russell explained that the department has increased its user fees and should see an increase of about $125,000 to $150,000 in revenue. The department will continue to evaluate user fees and adjust accordingly, he added.
The department is also expecting a state grant to help with the vehicle purchase, Russell said.
Because so many communities are hiring paramedics, Russell will begin posting for the positions in October, he said.
“The unfortunate reality is, right now we’ve got mutual aid coming in once every 36 hours, which is really beyond acceptable,” Russell said, adding other departments will staff another ambulance once they reach 100 mutual aid calls.
Village board members agreed that the additional full-time paramedics are needed. Trustee Phil Willems noted the second ambulance would take pressure off of the fire department.
Trustee Gary Herzberg said no one would want their family member to wait an additional 10 minutes for mutual aid to respond.
Trustee Sam Kaufmann called the EMS funding “meat and potatoes,” adding that residents expect a certain level of service.
While the increase to the EMS portion of the budget will be difficult, Finance Director Renee Meinholz said village staff could explore different approaches of funding.
Village Administrator Todd Schmidt reminded the board that based on the growth, a state formula determines how much a municipality’s levy can increase without a referendum.
“I believe the cushion we had last year was about $300,000 or so… so this proposal is about half of the allowable levy increase prior to the need to go to voters,” Schmidt said.
If other expenses increase, causing the village to levy more, the board may need to go to referendum. Meinholz said Waunakee is not alone in the budgeting dilemma.
“That’s the challenge all municipalities in Wisconsin are really facing right now, is those levy limits and trying to get even the basic services within levy limits,” Meinholz said. “It’s not like we’re unique in that perspective. It just makes our job more challenging to make it all work.”