With a new EMS contract officially approved, Lakeview EMS is preparing to take over services to the city of Hudson.
An optimistic transition time would be three months. Lakeview President Ted Wegleitner said they want to be sure the service is ready, so they want to set a date that is reasonable, not just hopeful.
PREVIOUSLY: Get caught up on the EMS contract issue here
"If we get premature in starting this, we're going to set ourselves up for failure," said Nathan Pulscher, vice president of ancillary services.
St. Croix EMS will continue to operate in the interim, with Lakeview EMS available to help.
The number one thing in the transition is hiring the staff, EMS Director Jon Muller said.
"That's the biggest hurdle to get things up and running, is we have to hire the people," Muller said.
Lakeview EMS currently has eight paramedics working at Hudson Hospital to serve town of Hudson. With the addition of the city of Hudson, it will add an additional eight paramedics, for a total of 16.
Lakeview has a rigorous 12-week training program. That can be adjusted based on a candidate's experience, Muller said.
One of the first things the service did after the contract was approved was to post for those positions, Wegleitner said.
"I think we're encouraged by the number of applicants that we've gotten," he said. "I think we have good confidence that we're going to be able to be selective about the people we have for this service for the city of Hudson."
Interviews began this week.
Lakeview has not seen the difficulty keeping up with staffing that other services, including St. Croix EMS, have experienced, Muller said.
"We've been very fortunate," he said.
The service realized long ago that competition exists in the industry, not only between different service agencies but with fire departments as well.
"We had to look at that and go, 'Maybe that is our competitor,'" Muller said. "And we had to make changes in how we paid, and we had to become competitive to the fire service."
The pay and the unique service area attracts candidates, he said.
Initial discussion with Lakeview three years ago included the possibility of hiring on some St. Croix EMS paramedics. That was not a part of this proposal, but Pulscher said Lakeview EMS welcomes applicants from St. Croix EMS.
"They bring history with the city, they know that service area, and if they're qualified they'd benefit the Lakeview team," he said.
One of the main concerns raised by council members during the proposal process was delay times with Lakeview's dispatch system. Lakeview EMS uses Allina dispatching, so when calls come in, St. Croix County dispatch calls Allina to then dispatch Lakeview EMS.
Muller said Lakeview has worked with St. Croix County dispatch to address the concerns.
"The system that we put into place with the pager and the 'I am responding' app has really improved that so-called lag time that was happening," he said.
The Allina system is an integral piece of Lakeview's operation, as it allows them to track quality assurance and movement of the ambulances, Muller said.
"So we need to keep that in place, and I think they understand that, and we understand their process," Muller said. "And we did everything we could to work with them and follow that process."
Future technology will completely alleviate the problem, Muller said.
Relation-building is also an important aspect of the transition, Wegleitner said. Lakeview is focused on developing relationships with the other public safety departments as well as the city and the community.
They are aware of the tumultuous path that led here.
"I think it's reasonable to assume people are going to be watching us pretty close since we're the new service in town, and we have to absolutely be on our best at all times," Wegleitner said.
They're up to the challenge, he said.
The organization works to embed itself in all of its communities, Wegleitner said.
"We're a part of the community that we serve. Every community that we provide EMS for, we are part of those communities and active, I would say members of those communities," Pulscher said.
Pulscher said the service has discussed how to introduce itself to the city. He said they plan to give the communities opportunities to meet Lakeview EMS in a different way.
"We're really excited about this," Wegleitner said. "I think we can bring real value to the community."
The service is also focused on its facilities. The service is housed at Hudson Hospital, and a new building is being constructed on its campus for EMS. Completion of that building is expected to be in spring of 2020, Pulscher said.
Currently Muller said the hospital does not have room for two ambulances and two more paramedics. Muller said they have notified the city that the service might need room to store ambulances during the construction phase.
Now that the city of Hudson is also part of its service area, Lakeview EMS will update its operational plan with the city before service begins. A plan has already been submitted as the service covers town of Hudson, Muller said.
The previous contract with the town of Hudson helped Muller feel comfortable in the area.
"I was a little nervous with the town of Hudson just because of the whole process," Muller said.
The area is a new geography, Pulscher said, and the types of calls can be different in different communities.
"I think you guys have done a great job of positioning yourself so it's not as big a jump to move to the city of Hudson," he said.
If everything had happened all at once, the service would have needed at least six months to take over. "It sort of allowed us a phase in, in a way" Wegleitner said. Wegleitner said a regional solution was always the intent.
"Because then we build a model that really flexes across all of those communities and really gets the benefit of economy of scale, and that's what this is all about," Wegleitner said.
Lakeview EMS has had conversations with the remaining city EMS partners, village of North Hudson and town of Troy. Muller said, for now, they need to focus on the city of Hudson.
"We need to make sure we get that up and running," Muller said. "But in our process, in our plans, we include them as part of our plans."
St. Croix EMS
In the meantime St. Croix EMS will continue to operate. The Hudson Common Council has voted to increase wages for remaining staff by 3% as well as directing the city administrator to work with a labor attorney on separation agreements.
St. Croix EMS Operations Supervisor Josh Olson said he hopes people will stay on, though he can't blame them if they don't.
The future for many staff members is still unknown.
Some, like Eric Sixberry, have regular jobs elsewhere. Others, like Jen Kerner, are full-time with the service.
Kerner has been with St. Croix EMS for 17 years. She plans to stay on during the transition. After that, she's not sure what her path is. Likely school.
As they look to that future, many staff members share frustrations over the past.
St. Croix EMS had faced uncertainty since discussions first began with Hudson Hospital and HealthPartners more than three years ago.
The uncertainty impacted morale, Sixberry said. It was difficult when nobody knew what the future of the service was.
The process has been stressful, Kerner said. Her passion for the service is what kept her here through all of it.
"I love working here," she said. "I'm sad it's going to come to an end."
The staff is dedicated to what they do, and Olson said they did what they could to make it work, going without raises or pay increases. Some staff have been there for 30 years, he said.
"We don't do it for the money, never have never will," Olson said. "We do it because we want to do it."
That's how first responders are, Sixberry said; they love their community.
"We want to help people," he said.
Olson worked to keep the service running while also making a proposal to the city, Sixberry said. The city should have had somebody come in to complete that proposal, he said.
Olson feels the process could have, and should have, been handled differently.
He said it all came down to local control.
"They had no control of the service until it's too late," he said. "And we lose our jobs, they don't lose their jobs."
In the end, Olson said he was disappointed that the public didn't have a chance to speak at the final meeting where the decision was made.
"They all told us in the back of ambulances that they want EMS to stay," he said.
Kerner wants the community to know they tried, and thanked them for their support.
"Hopefully people get out there and vote next time," she said.
The decision dismantled not only the service but a family, Olson said in a Facebook post. But it's one not easily broken.
"You cannot and will not be able to destroy this family," he said. "We will always be family past and present staff included."