CUBA CITY—The Cuba City Area Rescue Squad (CCARS) has suspended its services and handed its calls over to Paramount Ambulance until it can come up with a plan to better cover daytime calls.
Rita Luna, president of CCARS, held a special meeting on Monday, Oct. 30, to address the daytime volunteer shortage that has led to leaning on other rescue squads in the area to cover calls. A complaint was filed with the state for Cuba City not being able to field a call in September.
“I want to assure the people that this complaint was not made by somebody whose family or themselves had delayed services,” Luna said.
Luna said a meeting was already in the works before any complaints were made to the state.
“We have been aware for many months that our daytime crew was pretty slim,” Luna said. “We had a couple of daytime people [in October] who had to, for various reasons, take some time off and it really brought it to my mind that one person missing makes that huge of a difference and we shouldn’t be in that slippery of a slope.”
Recruitment efforts have not brought in enough new volunteers to cover the open shifts.
Last week, Luna received an e-mail from the Emergency Medical Services State Licensing Department announcing that a complaint was filed against CCARS in September because it was unable to respond to a call during the day. The complaint was that CCARS was depending on Platteville’s ambulance service to make those calls.
Luna said she had a meeting set up with the state licensing department to discuss the complaint, but within 24 hours she was notified that the complaint was further investigated and the complaint was founded. Luna had to have a plan for coverage in place by 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26.
“We do have a compact with [Grant] County where we would help each other in those situations,” Luna said. “I was told that it was not enough, that it was delaying patient care. We had to have a response from our area.”
With direction from the rescue squad’s medical director, Dr. Williams at Mercy Hospital, and his representative, Luna suspended the Cuba City Area Rescue Squad’s service and contacted both Paramount Ambulance in Dubuque and Southwest Health Center Ambulance in Platteville to enquire about covering the Cuba City territory for two weeks. Luna said Southwest Health declined assistance, stating it was already having a difficult time making its own calls.
Paramount Ambulance had done a similar temporary service for other squads in the area and was available to provide the service in Cuba City temporarily. From Oct. 27 at 6 a.m. through Nov. 11 at 6 a.m., Paramount Ambulance will cover all of Cuba City’s calls at the paramedic level. The fee for this service is $100 an hour for 24 hours a day, scheduled for a maximum of two weeks. The rescue squad is covering the entire cost.
Since the squad has been able to meet all evening and weekend calls, Luna asked state officials if they could continue with eveningand weekend coverage while Paramount Ambulance covered the daytime shortage. That was not allowed and 24-hour coverage was needed until the state approved the squad’s plan to continue service. Luna hopes that the new plan can be approved before the end of the two weeks.
“These volunteers have been diligent and dedicated, they have stopped their lives many, many times to cover the rescue squad,” Luna said. “We need to be positive and we need to stick together as a community, work through this and move forward. I believe this is going to make the rescue squad a stronger organization and sustainable.”
The crowd of approximately 30 people present on Monday discussed several options to improve CCARS’s coverage. Both short-term and long-term options were discussed.
First, the rescue squad plans to fill out a schedule of volunteers for both daytime and evening shifts through Jan. 1, 2018. They will also look into dropping down from the advanced EMT level to basic EMT to allow for more daytime volunteers.
Cuba City currently has eight advanced EMTs and eight basic EMTs with 10 drivers for a total roster of 26. Advanced EMTs are able to distribute narcotics and install an IV for patients.
In the long term, CCARS will look into what it would take to hire someone for a limited time to cover the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.Monday through Friday shifts. The CCARS fees would likely go up to help cover the costs of the guaranteed coverage during the day. Another option they wish to look into is consolidating with other squads in the area to allow for more volunteers and shared resources.
Other options that were brought up included contracting services elsewhere, revamping a recruitment effort to gain more volunteers for the daytime shifts and sharing rosters with other local rescue squads to cover shifts.
To run a call, it requires a driver and two licensed EMTs or a licensed EMT and a licensed first responder. Luna said
CCARS typically fields 250 to 290 calls for service throughout the year; this year’s numbers are down.
“This is not a unique situation,” Steve Braun, director of Grant County Emergency Management, said. “This is a problem that our EMS services are facing all over Grant County, Wisconsin and throughout the nation. There is a shortage of volunteers. The world has changed a lot since these volunteer ambulances were formed. People have a lot less free time and there are a lot more households that require two incomes. Modern lifestyles afford people a lot more to do and people give a lot less. You really need to compete with so many other things for those volunteers. Employers are a lot less likely to allow their employees to leave for calls.”
Braun said the field of EMS has been changing, too, making it more difficult for volunteers to get licensed, adding more required skills and more time commitments for classes.
“Throughout Grant County we have a lot of volunteers who are burned out,” Braun said. “I want to give our EMTs a lot of credit. They have been giving everything they can to the community. The service they are giving is phenomenal.”
Cuba City Mayor Tom Gile said there are currently three people in the EMT class who will graduate at the end of December.
“We need help now until at least then,” Gile said. “Hopefully we can get some people to step up. We have to get people to man the squad at all hours.”
Anybody needing the rescue squad’s assistance should continue to call 911 for the fastest service. Gile said Paramount responded to some calls over the weekend.
“We can’t afford this long-term,” Gile said.