Mayor Announces Changes To Ambulance Service

Mayor Chris Buetler was joined by City Councilman Ken Svoboda, Lincoln Fire & Rescue (LFR) Chief Niles Ford and Lincoln Police Department (LPD) Chief Tom Casady at a news conference today to announce two important changes to the City's emergency response system.

The Mayor announced that the City will place a sixth LFR ambulance into the field to keep response times low, reduce paramedic stress and maintain a high standard of care.

“We have to maintain a quality medical response system for our families,” said Mayor Beutler.  “We never want to be in the position of explaining to a family member that a death was preventable because we didn't act to keep the system strong.  As your Mayor, it is my number one priority to ensure your family receives a quick, timely and quality medical response when they need it.”

Indicators show that five ambulances are running a high number of calls.  The average LFR ambulance team goes to over 3,400 calls per year with the busiest ambulance covering over 4,000 calls.  By comparison, the busiest ambulance in four of Lincoln's five peer cities does not even cover the same number of calls as LFR's least busy ambulance.  The Mayor said that LFR's paramedics are becoming overwhelmed by a City that has grown geographically by 40 percent and by 26 percent in population since 1990.

“Response times reflect this problem,” said Mayor Beutler.  “We are increasingly unable to meet the national eight minute standard recommended as best for patient care, particularly for those patients on the southern fringes of our community.  This is unacceptable.  We cannot jeopardize patient care with slowing response times and paramedics who are worn out.  The risk is too high not to act swiftly and decisively.”

LFR Chief Niles Ford said that by using on-duty personnel and an ambulance LFR already owns, the addition of the sixth ambulance will be cost neutral.

“It is our mission to provide the highest standards of public safety response, mitigation, and emergency transport possible,” said LFR Chief Niles Ford.  “Furthermore, in these trying economic times it is essential that department directors use the resources we have been trusted with in the most effective and efficient manner possible.  To that end, I believe the addition of this ambulance is consistent with those doctrines.”

Chief Tom Casady said a recent investigation revealed that paramedics are over stressed.  “During our investigation last year into drug abuse by two paramedics, I became aware of the workload and scheduling stress borne by Lincoln's ambulance crews,” said LPD Chief Tom Casady.  “We learned that there were often few opportunities in the 24-hour shift for rest, and that paramedics often caught their limited sleep fully clothed and with their shoes on, in anticipation of the next call out.  No one wants an exhausted paramedic, or an exhausted police officer, showing up at their emergency.  Increasing the availability of ambulance crews and spreading the workload out across more ambulances is an obvious way of reducing the workload stress.”

Mayor Beutler also announced his support for Councilman Ken Svoboda's effort to change stand-by ambulance service.  Stand-by ambulances are placed at the scene of local high school sporting events, horse races, University of Nebraska football games, charity fun runs, and other events with physically demanding activities or large crowds.

“Stand-bys place a significant strain on our emergency response,” said Mayor Beutler.  “LFR ambulances that stand-by are taken out of the emergency system meaning that a back-up ambulance that is further away must sometimes respond.  Stand-bys create logistical and staffing challenges as well.”

Currently, City code only allows LFR to perform stand-by services.  Chief Ford said qualified private sector ambulances can handle many stand-by situations.  Councilman Ken Svoboda said a revision of the City code will increase flexibility through private sector/public sector cooperation.

“This ordinance change is yet another great step forward in the ever increasing cooperation between Lincoln Fire and Rescue and the private sector,” said Svoboda.  “Cooperation is a win-win for the citizens of Lincoln.”

In the vast majority of stand-by situations, no medical emergency occurs.  LFR estimates that only a handful of actual emergencies have occurred in 447 stand-bys requiring over 4,167 hours of stand-by service.  The proposed ordinance change will allow emergency resources to be focused on emergencies.

Svoboda said that LFR will continue to provide stand-by service as requested.

In 2008, LFR turned a profit for the second consecutive year, performing well enough to make a considerable dent in the Ambulance Fund's start up loan from the City's General Fund.

“We need to understand there are no free lunches,” said Mayor Beutler.  “Stand-by services are a source of profit for Lincoln Fire and Rescue.  Allowing others to provide these services will likely reduce Lincoln Fire and Rescue's profit.  We have worked very hard to ensure that the ambulance fund is in the black.  But we feel the benefits outweigh the loss of revenues at this point.  Quick and quality response must take precedence over future profit.”