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EMS has understaffed shift, working out kinks in new model

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Temporary changes have been made to the new St. Croix EMS staffing model after an understaffed weekend Jan. 19-21.

The service did not have a fully staffed ambulance during a 12-hour shift.

EMS Chief Brandon Lyksett and staff were the only ones aware of the issue at the time. Mayor Rich O'Connor said during the Feb. 5 council meeting he was flabbergasted that the issue was first brought up in a Jan. 24 EMS ad hoc committee meeting by community member Paul Rode.

"How can we resolve this problem unless we know what the problem is?" O'Connor said. "This whole thing is about safety for the community."

Lyksett said he planned to bring the information to the next EMS commission meeting.

In an interview on Feb. 1, Lyksett said the understaffed gap was due to hour limits with part-time employees. These limits were implemented when the new 2018 staff model switched part-time employees from stipends to hourly pay. With hourly wages, hours have to be below a certain threshold, or health insurance and other benefits have to be offered.

To try to prevent gaps again, Lyksett worked with Finance Director Brenda Malinowski and an ad hoc committee representative a couple days after its meeting to get more flexibility with overtime, allowing staff to pick up extra shifts beyond their hourly limit if needed. This will count towards an annual limit, but will help now as the service continues the transition into the new model.

The following weekend, which featured the always-busy Hot Air Affair, was fully staffed.

"We're on track moving forward, we have things in place," Lyksett said.

Council member Tom McCormick said the EMS commission has been dealing with staffing issues for years, and the ad hoc committee shouldn't be focusing on these operational issues.

Council member and ad hoc committee chair Joyce Hall said her intention was not to deal with the staffing issue in committee, but to deal with the problem.

New model

This new EMS staff model went into place in January, after being proposed by Lyksett as an alternative to a potential sale to HealthPartners last year.

The model has paramedics and EMTs staffed on-site rather than some of them responding from home. Five paramedics will be added to the staff over five years, and new EMT positions will be added as well.

"We voted to have Brandon implement a model that he said would work, it's not working," McCormick said. "And I'm not saying it won't work, but currently it's not working."

Lyksett said approval of the budget came later last year, meaning the service waited before it started trying to fill new positions necessary for the new model. EMS also had less staff filling the new positions than originally thought.

"It didn't go the way we thought it would," Lyksett said.

Lyksett said the discussions of a sale to HealthPartners, which would have meant the loss of 24 EMT positions, did have an effect on staff, both current and new applicants. He said the service saw some members lower their time commitment, and others leave completely for other employment opportunities. Four of the EMTs that worked 60 percent of the hours decreased their time and took employment elsewhere.

"I would hope that this year and moving forward and kind of going through with this new model would show that we have the commitment, that we are staying and that we're getting the support," Lyksett said.

The model itself is not flawed, Lyksett said but like any new model will need time.

"Right now we're making some adjustments, but I anticipate a three- to six-month transition," Lyksett said.

In this time Lyksett plans to bring on the full staff to support the new model. A new paramedic position should be filled by March, and EMT hirings will be ongoing.

A second ambulance, which is important for transfers, is currently staffed about 60 percent of the time. Lyksett said that will be at full stability by summer, in his anticipated three to six month-transition time.

The model is designed to eventually take the service to full-time medics and EMTs. The projection is this will be within five years.

"I could see it happening sooner if staffing were to continue to be an issue with this model, relying on part-time staff," Lyksett said.

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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