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Hudson community, officials grapple with EMS decision

Community members gathered in turqoius "SAVE SCEMS" shirts in front of the Hudson Fire Department Tuesday, June 13 in opposition of a proposal that would merge St. Croix EMS with HealthPartners. Maureen McMullen / RiverTown Multimedia.1 / 3
Hudson Mayor Rich O'Connor joined Lakeview EMS Director Jon Muller and other city officials at Christian Community Homes to discuss a proposed merger of St. Croix EMS with HealthPartners and answer community members' questions Tuesday, June 13. Maureen McMullen / RiverTown Multimedia. 2 / 3
Chris and Mike Bahneman joined a group of Hudson-area community members to rally against the St. Croix EMS-HealthPartners merger Tuesday, June 13. Mike Bahneman worked as an emergency medical technician with St. Croix EMS for more than 30 years while his wife, Chris, now serves on the dive team. Maureen McMullen / RiverTown Multimedia.3 / 3

A proposal to merge St. Croix EMS with HealthPartners has drawn criticism from some Hudson residents, but Mayor Rich O'Connor said misunderstandings abound about how the change would affect the community.

Both sides engaged in tense discussion Tuesday night, less than a week before the Hudson Common Council voters on the merger.

Opponents donned turquois "SAVE SCEMS" shirts for a rally near the Hudson Fire Department during the EMS Commission meeting.

Mike Bahneman, an organizer of the event and third-generation emergency medical technician, recently retired from St. Croix EMS after more than 30 years.

"If you or a loved on is having a heart attack, you want the fastest possible medical care," Bahneman said. "That's what they're messing with at this point."

Opponents worry the proposed new model will slow response times for emergency teams serving the community.

The Hudson Common Council will hold a public informational hearing on the issue Monday, June 19.

The new model would reduce the number of ambulances stationed in Hudson from three to two. Two ambulances would be stationed in Hudson and two at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater.

Lakeview EMS Director Jon Muller that this model, called dynamic deployment, is used at most larger EMS units across the country.

"The idea is to put your resources close to where you think you'll need them," he said told a crowd at the Christian Community Home Tuesday.

Muller, Mayor Rich O'Connor and St. Croix EMS Chief Brandon Lyskett explained what the merger would mean for the community and answered questions.

In the Hudson service area, dynamic deployment would mean that once an ambulance dispatches from one site, another ambulance from the other site would take its place.

For example, when one truck leaves the Hudson station, another truck from Stillwater would head to Hudson, where it would park if no other calls came in en route.

Muller said the GPS technology Lakeview uses allows dispatchers to plot out where ambulances are on the map, and which is closest to the scene.

He estimates that most calls would be within a five-minute driving distance of each hospital in the area.

Funding

Concerns over response times, O'Connor said, are among criticisms of the change stemming from misinformation circulating on social media.

St. Croix EMS presented four new staffing models as alternatives to the merger in April. The organization's favored model would stagger the hiring of five new paramedics over five years, and raise per-capita municipal contributions to $19.25 in 2018, with a $2 increase each year.

The model was one of four for which city administration calculated fiscal impacts in a memo O'Connor outlined.

The memo also outlined the impact of the current EMS funding, a formula that would disclude North Hudson and the town of Hudson from the service area, and the integration with HealthPartners.

O'Connor said the HealthPartners integration was the only proposal that would leave the city with sufficient funding for expenses such as new police equipment or increases in other departments.

Under the city's maximum tax levy of $5.25 per $1,000 of home valuation, the current St. Croix EMS funding formula would leave $44,908 available once factors including contractual increases for police and Wisconsin Retirement System payments are deducted.

The model St. Croix EMS proposed would leave $13,200, while the merger would leave $308,325, officials said.

O'Connor said Hudson uses an average $175,000 in other expenses, and that the St. Croix EMS proposal would leave about $135,000 in expenses unfunded.

"And that means budget cuts," he said. "Or it means that we have to go beyond the $5.25 mill rate to cover the rest of the expense," which could have repercussions from state-imposed tax levy caps.

Other concerns

Some concerns over the merger had less conclusive answers.

If Hudson Common Council votes in favor of the merger, more than 20 EMT jobs could be slated for the chopping block.

HealthPartners' two-paramedic system does not use EMT's — a model Muller said called "the highest level care," as Wisconsin requires two paramedics for certain procedures.

The new model would allow Lakeview emergency teams to add four EMTs. The four people, however, would have to gain paramedic certification within three years and enroll in a paramedic program within the first year.

Bahneman worries the move would eliminate some of the crew's extra equipment and capacities, such as the dive team, which assisted in retrieving two people from the river during a drowning incident last week, and paramedic chase vehicles, which help clear the way for ambulances in traffic.

" Right now, the citizens have a lot of say in how the service operates," he said. "If the service did something the citizens didn't like, this is what you would see us banding together to complain. With a private entity, there's nothing we can do. We're giving away total control over something as vital as EMS."

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