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UPDATE: 24 EMTs could lose jobs with potential EMS transfer, no decision made

Twenty-four EMTs with St. Croix EMS could lose their positions if the city approves negotiations to integrate the service with Hudson Hospital, staff heard at a meeting Tuesday night. No decision has been made. (file photo)

More than 20 St. Croix EMS emergency medical technicians could lose their jobs if the city of Hudson decides to transfer the service to the Hudson Hospital and HealthPartners.

This update was given at an EMS Commission meeting Tuesday, March 14, but commissioners emphasized negotiations are still ongoing and no decision has been made.

No role for EMTs

If the transfer is approved, all services would be run by HealthPartners and an ambulance base would be built at Hudson Hospital. Lakeview Hospital has been involved in discussions as a HealthPartners representative as Lakeview already runs an ambulance service. Lakeview Hospital Vice President of Ancillary Services Nathan Pulscher said Hudson Hospital would use the two-paramedic model that other HealthPartners organizations do, as it has found the model to be successful.

Currently, St. Croix EMS uses an accommodation model that includes both paramedics and EMTs. Paramedics respond to calls in a quick-response vehicle while EMTs then respond in an ambulance.

Under HealthPartners’ two-paramedic model, Hudson Hospital would offer all current St. Croix EMS paramedics employment, but the model has no role for current EMTs.

St. Croix EMS employs 24 EMTs and 12 paramedics, though some employees in both positions also work for HealthPartners. The 12-member dive team is not a part of the potential transfer and would remain under city control.  

EMT Pam Dabruzzi said it was shocking that the EMS staff wasn’t informed earlier.

“I take this as a slap in the face to myself personally that this is how we find out,” she said.

Pulscher said HealthPartners and Hudson Hospital are willing to talk about supporting current EMTs in being trained as paramedics.

“There’s a greater need than there is supply,” Pulscher said about paramedics.

Nothing is final

Discussions on integrating the EMS with Hudson Hospital began in summer of 2016. Originally, the city had planned to transfer EMS to the hospital but keep the same system, Town of Hudson Commissioner Tim Foster said. Throughout negotiations with the hospital, the plan changed. Hudson Council Member Tom McCormick said the city has reviewed several different options for the service and still has not made a final decision.

“This has had more permutations than you can imagine,” McCormick said.

A release from Hudson Hospital on March 20 said the discussions are exploring whether combining the ambulance service with the hospital could provide the highest quality of care while maintaining most affordable services.

“We know this is an important discussion and are sensitive to the fact that these discussions represent a change for the communities involved and for the St. Croix EMS staff,” said Lakeview Hospital President Ted Wegleitner. “We want to be the best possible partners for the communities being served.”

Most discussion regarding the potential transfer has occurred in closed session, as provided by law for negotiations. City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick said because negotiations are still ongoing, the commission could not provide any more details on the transfer outside of the potential employment update.

The EMS commission and its representatives from the affected areas of Hudson, North Hudson, Town of Hudson and part of Town of Troy have been a part of negotiations, as well as EMS Chief Brandon Lyksett and other representatives from the city and hospital. Mayor Rich O’Connor said he thinks the committees have sufficient operational representation for the topic.

As discussions have progressed, the Hudson Common Council in November approved a 2017 budget without five months of EMS service, which is about $80,000 of the $190,000 EMS budget, in expectation of a contract for services with the hospital. The budget provided for contingency or undesignated fund balance to be used if the transfer does not happen.

At the March 13 Hudson Common Council meeting, after another closed session on the transfer, O’Connor said the city will begin public discussion on the topic at its council meetings. O’Connor also agreed to requests by EMS staff to have a separate special session on the issue to address all of their questions.

“Every discussion that we have had has put the service that is provided to the city above everything else. It’s paramount,” O’Connor said.

Munkittrick said if the integration is approved, it will likely be done by Sept. 30.

Service to community

Beyond their own employment, many EMS staff members expressed concern about how the community would be served if the transfer was made, especially without the use of EMTs.

Questions posed about equipment, operation and response times could not be answered, as those details are part of ongoing negotiations.

EMT Brian Schmidt said EMS staff members are there to help their community and ensure its members are protected.

“We’re kind of a different breed because we’re not only looking at ourselves,” he said. “We have a responsibility and obligation to all the EMTs from the past, we have an obligation to the community.”

Currently, the city has not landed on an answer for who will serve as first responders to the community if the transfer is approved. O’Connor stated in an update issued March 15 that the city does not intend to change the operation of the Hudson Fire Department.

McCormick said the city is dedicated to public safety in the community.

“We want to have a successful EMS system,” McCormick said.

The update from O’Connor stated the city would assure two ambulances would be based in the city. According to a release from Hudson Hospital, discussions include Lakeview Hospital coordinating medical direction, management, education and supplies, but Hudson Hospital would have an ambulance base that would have two ambulances. The hospital said if one ambulance left Hudson on a run, a Lakeview ambulance would be rotated closer to Hudson.

“Our goals are the same,” says Hudson Hospital President and CEO Marian Furlong. “When an ambulance is dispatched, we want to be able to deliver the highest level of care in the timeliest manner possible.”

The city and EMS commission have approved retention bonuses, which will start March 24, for most EMS staff that provides incentive for workers to stay on and ensure the service can continue to operate up until the transfer point, if the transfer is approved. The commission said retention would be in effect regardless of whether the city goes through with the transfer. Staff will be notified ahead of time on the decision.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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