The town of Hudson will part ways with St. Croix EMS, sooner rather than later - if the city of Hudson allows it.
Hudson Town Board approved a non-binding letter of intent Tuesday, Sept. 25 with Lakeview EMS for services. It also approved sending the city a letter of non-renewal of the rolling five-year contract with St. Croix EMS, and has additionally asked the city to release it from the remaining four years on the contract.
"We're asking the city, for a number of reasons, to let us out at the end of the year," Town Chairman Jeff Johnson said at a Sept. 24 meeting. "But that's a call the city has to make."
Town of Hudson residents got a preview Monday of what could be in store for ambulance service in the community if local leaders move ahead with a different service provider.
Stillwater-based Lakeview EMS fielded questions from residents at an informational hearing, where officials described how coverage would be provided through a full-time ambulance presence at Hudson Hospital.
The presentation, made by Lakeview Hospital President Ted Wegleitner and Lakeview EMS Manager Jon Muller, preceded the Tuesday vote.
Town of Hudson's withdrawal is the latest development in the St. Croix EMS saga, which has seen both village of North Hudson and town of Troy also vote for nonrenewal of the contract. But North Hudson and Troy said they would remain with St. Croix EMS through the remaining contract ending in 2022.
North Hudson Village President Stan Wekkin said at a Tuesday morning EMS Commission that the village is interested in ending the contract this year as well, but the village board would have to revote on it.
Troy has not asked for an early out, Troy Supervisor Suzanne Mele said, and during its vote in September supervisors left open the option of exploring a different contract with St. Croix EMS.
Town of Hudson leaders described plans with a different timeline.
Town Chairman Jeff Johnson said the goal is, after terminating the St. Croix EMS contract, to have a new service in place by the end of the year.
Muller said there is no contract under development yet between the town and Lakeview.
Johnson said the town was being a good community partner by participating in the joint St. Croix EMS system, which services also the city, North Hudson and the town of Troy. But over time, he said, it became too costly to the town of Hudson.
"We should be shown a little gratitude that we did do that over the years," Johnson said of St. Croix EMS participation.
Town Supervisor Kernon Bast added that since the town can't raise levy limits, it's been hard to keep up with the funding for St. Croix EMS. Combining the cost of EMS, library funding and other services virtually surpasses the town's budget for roads, he said.
"At some point, somebody has to throw the anchor in the water," Bast said.
Town Supervisor Tim Foster told the EMS Commission that money is the main reason for leaving the service. The town's 2018 cost for EMS was just above $147,000.
"I'm convinced we would have raised the levies in all our communities if we could have, because we wanted this service," Foster said.
If the town switches to a new model like Lakeview, Johnson said ambulance costs would be shifted solely to patients and their insurance carriers - if they have them.
Responding to a question about how Lakeview benefits without drawing on tax rolls, as St. Croix EMS does, Wegleitner explained that the business model is different. Lakeview benefits by expanding its "continuity of care" to Hudson Hospital, which is also part of the larger HealthPartners system. He noted that such a benefit would only apply if more neighboring St. Croix County communities participated.
Johnson added that expanding access to more patients is a benefit to Lakeview.
"These people aren't dummies - they've thought about this," he said. "They've got reasons to offer it and we've got reasons to take it."
Hudson Council Member Bill Alms and St. Croix EMS Supervisor Josh Olson expressed concern at Tuesday morning's commission meeting that Lakeview operating out of Hudson Hospital would diminish transfer runs by St. Croix EMS. The loss of that revenue would be a huge hit to the service, both Alms and Olson said.
"In a way, the decision that you're making is, could potentially be the start of the demise," Alms said.
Wegleitner said at the Tuesday town meeting a decision on picking up transfers has not yet been made.
Bast said Monday he prefers seeing an end to public-sector ambulance service for the town.
"It shouldn't be government-funded," he said.
Muller added that the economies of scale also apply, which allow Lakeview to inject more staffing resources as needed.
He also tried tamping down social media rumors that first responder services wouldn't be part of the Lakeview model in St. Croix County.
"First responders are vital to our operation," Muller said, adding that Lakeview would provide training and equipment to those volunteers. "We'd never say we'd want that to go away."