Elkhorn EMS trying to dig out of hole, improve services

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Darryl Enriquez
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
— If the Elkhorn Fire Department wants to improve its emergency medical services, there must be an expectation that more spending is needed to achieve that goal, city officials agreed at a Tuesday meeting.

But that additional spending cannot be financed by taxes, the Public Safety Committee agreed.

New financing might be gained through a revised effort to collect delinquent EMS payments. The committee recommended Tuesday that the department contract with a private collection agency to handle billing, freeing fire staff from chasing debtors.

Officials have expressed a desire to contract with EMS Medical Billing, a company out of Milwaukee.

The City of Elkhorn Common Council must approve the recommendation and resulting contract before it takes effect.

According to a Fire Department report, the agency is carrying $469,000 in uncollected ambulance bills for the last three years. Elkhorn EMS relies solely on service-generated revenue, not taxes, for its operation.

Tied in with discussion on bill collection were concerns over the lack of volunteers responding to late night and early morning calls for help.

EMS Assistant Chief Dave Fladten and Fire Chief Rod Smith issued an earlier report that contends the majority of EMS calls are handled by about 30 percent of the staff.

The report also raised the specter that the department can't muster enough volunteers to answer emergency medical calls.

When that happens, a private ambulance service from Waukesha County or a mutual aid ambulance from another community is summoned, according to the report.

Both Fladten and Smith told the committee that they were unaware of any emergency requests that went unanswered.

Committee Chairman Scott McClory warned that no one would want to be in the position of explaining to the public why someone died due to a lack of EMS response.

The collection rate is now at about 55 percent. On average, collection agencies capture about 80 percent of the bills. With increased collection, the department could implement pay incentives to bring in volunteers during shifts that are difficult to cover.

"We're in this to make money so we can make improvements later," Fladten said.

Smith agreed that if the department strives to just break even, its services will never improve.

McClory said outsourcing bill collection was a first step in upgrading departmental services. Fire officials will return to the committee in a few weeks with recommendations on how to use the additional money from collections.

Officials might consider raising ambulance fees, which are below the national average, they said.

"Strengthening services? It's not going to come without a cost," City Administrator Sam Tapson said.

Last updated: 4:10 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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